Leyland, Johnson no stranger to being rivals

VIERA, Fla. -- Jim Leyland has managed in the Majors for 22 seasons, and he has found his teams in several great matchups. However, he believes his first great rivalry -- the Pirates against the Mets -- was probably the best.

Those matchups featured then-Pirates skipper Leyland against then-Mets manager Davey Johnson about 18 times a season. In 1986, Leyland's first year in Pittsburgh, his team lost 17 of those matchups to the eventual World Series champion Mets.

"They beat us 17 out of 18, and a Boston writer asked me in the World Series, 'Do you think the Mets are good?' I said, 'Not really, not that good, because if they were, they would've swept us,'" Leyland joked. "They were [darn] good."

By 1987, it was a balanced, even heated, rivalry that included beanballs and heated words between players. Soon after, it became the battle that usually decided the National League East.

"We finally caught up with them," Leyland said. "I think it was 1990, Opening Day, I want to say we beat the crap out of them, and we sent the message that we were pretty good and they knew it."

That was the year the Pirates won their first of three consecutive NL East titles.

"Fortunately, we did win that year," Leyland said, "but they were great teams. We had some great battles. Davey's a great manager."

More than a quarter century and several stops later, they both have great teams again. And thanks to Interleague Play, they'll face each other four times in 2013 -- a two-game series in Washington May 7-8, then a two-game set at Comerica Park July 30-31.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.