April 6, 2010
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Today, opening day, the optimists ruled. The naysayers already have their rebuttals: "You had Santana pitching, you should have won. Now let's see what you've got."
Perhaps they are right. Certainly 2009, nor this most recent spring training, has given even the most loyal Mets fans some ill-conceived notions that this team will win the NL East going away in a wire to wire race.
Regardless if you win or lose on opening day, whether it's a blowout like today's victory over the Florida Marlins or it's a walk off hit, you are always reminded that this is a 162-game season and there's still plenty of games to be played.
Fortunately, the Mets have a pretty solid major league-leading winning percentage on Opening Day despite losing the opener in its first eight seasons. They are 32-9 since then and although you would like to believe that would carry through the 162-game schedule, more often than not it hasn't happened that way for the Mets.
The obvious pluses that the optimists expected to see were apparent from the very first inning. Johan Santana put the Marlins down in order. In fact, he got the first seven batters out before giving up a hit.
You just had to know that David Wright has been counting down the days since last October, simply tired of hearing all the negativity about how he's lost his power, how his strikeouts had increased, how he lunged at bad pitches, and how he just couldn't keep up with a good fastball. The smile that he wore as he rounded the bases after lofting one down the right field line to put the Mets out in front 2-0 must have his legion of fans in happy tears.
Other expected positives the optimists had believed would happen simply did. Jason Bay, Gary Matthews Jr., and Rod Barajas each collected two hits. And Bay's triple inspired us all to think that we can't wait for the return of Jose Reyes, who is a triple machine.
Despite leaving 13 runners on base, the Mets did score seven runs on nine hits which means they hit in the clutch today, something you couldn't find with a telescope last year.
I loved the play of Gary Matthews Jr. in centerfield, as he seemed to be roaming the outfield on a team of Wells Fargo stallions. I lost count after his first eight putouts while the Marlins center fielder, the much heralded Cameron Maybin, seemed lost out there in the vastness of windy Citi-Field.
What I didn't expect, rather I had only hoped for, was the brilliance of the Mets bullpen and how they completely shut down the mighty Marlins, who are supposed to challenge, along with the Braves, the Phillies for the NL East crown.
After Santana, who went six solid innings giving up one run on six hits, Jerry Manuel turned to Fernando Nieve, who was Jonathan Niese's competition for the fifth slot in the rotation. Nieve, who had impressed the Mets management last year when all hell broke loose, also found his way to the DL and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Manuel didn't waste any time to find out what spot Nieve would be in.
Last year, despite the injuries, the pitching staff had a major bugaboo of walking a gazillion batters—putting themselves in situations that would only lead to disaster. Jerry spoke early and often that this year had to be different or else those who couldn't throw strikes and let the fielders play their game would not be around long enough to matter.
So here's what Nieve did today: two innings, two hits, two k's, 36 pitches, 23 of them strikes. That is very nice. Francisco Rodriguez closed out the ninth with one ground ball and two fly outs on 14 pitches, eight of which were strikes. Very optimistic results, even if it was only game one.
So now comes the fun. After a day off tomorrow, the Mets will throw John Maine at the Marlins on Wednesday night and Jonathan Niese on Thursday. Friday, when the Washington Nationals come to town, they will hope to get something out of Mike Pelfrey and Ollie Perez before going back to Johan Santana on Sunday with a healthy Jose Reyes in the starting lineup.
By the way, I was surprised and delighted to see Alex Cora make a terrific play on a ball hit in the hole today. He's certainly no Reyes and not even as defensively sound as a Reuben Tejada, but it was sparkling nevertheless.
We optimists had our day in the sun and have the next 36 hours to bask in our victory. But beware, there are those so called "Mets Realists" that are just lurking, trying to ruin our fun. Well, you just never know, they may be waiting a long time in 2010 and may have to get some heavy washcloths, because from what I understand egg is very difficult to clean off your face.
Let's go, 1-0 Mets!
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