NEW YORK – New additions to Citi Field Monday afternoon and a New York Mets Opening Day win over the Florida Marlins gave some hope after the devastating outcome of the season before. There was a debut of a Mets Hall of Fame for fans, more of a Mets historic presence in and around the ballpark, and some of the newest Mets made an immediate impact.
David Wright also did something at Citi Field that was rarely done last season. He hit a two-run homer over the right field wall in the first inning that gave the Mets a lead they would never relinquish. Johan Santana was healthy again after finishing last season on the disabled list and got the win. He allowed four hits and is now 4-1 with a 3.56 ERA in five career opening day starts.
“It felt pretty good,” said Santana after two other Venezuelan pitchers, Fernando Nieve and Francisco Rodriquez came out of the pen and preserved his first win of the new season as the Mets never looked back and won 7-1. “I’ve been waiting for this day for many months and finally to have a chance to go out there and do it felt pretty good,” he said.
And what also made Santana, as well as Mets Manager Jerry Manuel feel good was the way Wright hit the ball with authority. How newcomers Jason Bay, catcher Rob Barajas, outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and Mike Jacobs contributed also put smiles on the face of the manager.
“This is the type of baseball we have to play day in, day out,” commented Manuel who anticipated a good start after a dreadful fourth place 70-92 finish in 2009 and a devastation of injuries. So at least for one day all is right for the Mets as Barajas, Matthews Jr. and Bay got two hits apiece.
There was the timely hitting, Santana with an effective curve and fastball. All something positive on Opening Day as the Mets also beat Marlins starting pitcher Josh Johnson for the first time, Johnson is 7-1 against New York in 10 career starts and gave up four runs on five hits in five plus innings.
The prevailing attitude in the Mets clubhouse was how these newcomers have mixed in quickly. Mathews Jr in particular got the start Monday over Angle Pagan in center. And because Carlos Beltran is on the disabled list, and is not expected back until the first week of May, Matthews Jr. and Angel Pagan will share the spot. Matthews played the field with authority battling the winds at Citi Field but he got some advice.
“It was a little tough out there,” he said. “Yeah Carlos gave me some good pointers about playing the field here,” he said. “The best part of it was it was a little bit of everybody,” said the newcomer Bay about the team effort that got 2010 off to the right start.
Pagan, hitting for Santana in the sixth got a single, stole a base and later scored. Luis Castillo also got on base and stole one. Things like this were not happening for the Mets at home or on the road last season. “We can not afford to have any lapses,” said Manuel who obviously enjoyed the moment of an opening day win.
“The fact they played well and performed well was hope for us,” said Manuel about the newcomers. The Mets improved to 18-2 in their last 20 home openers and have the best winning percentage in Major League Baseball on opening day with a 32-17 mark.
But that is just a record for the books. The Mets hope more wins will come.
Added Santana, “We got to see Bay, Matthews and Barajas do, good because we are counting on more than one guy They did the job right away and that’s a good situation. We have to win as many games as we can and trust these guys right now.” Santana was alluding to the new positive chemistry that debuted on Monday.
The chemistry that veteran infielder Alex Cora has also seen. Cora did not know if he would be in this same clubhouse when the last pitch was thrown at Citi Field back in October. He has recovered well from surgery on two thumbs and made a defensive gem in the third inning, He will fill in at shortstop until Jose Reyes returns, maybe as soon as this weekend when the Mets continue this first home stand of the season against Washington.
”We have capable guys here and are better prepared,” said Cora who briefly was a teammate with Bay when with the Boston Red Sox. “If something like that happens,” he said referring to the rash of injuries of last season, “we are better prepared.”
And another noticeable difference came from the newcomer Matthews Jr, Being aggressive on the bases, going from first to third and producing another run was something not seen much last season.. “This team is going to be aggressive going from first to third, something I am familiar with from Anaheim,” he said.
“It was an all around good effort,” commented Wright who also noticed the 41,245 fans at Citi Field were enthused and liked what they saw. “We caught the ball, we pitched well and obviously had some good timely hitting. You can’t ask for much more than that, first game of the season.”
No, you can’t ask for much more than what the Mets did Monday. For the moment there is optimism, memories gone from the bad moments of a year ago. The question can John Maine, Olive Perez, Mike Pelfrey, and who follows duplicate the effort of Santana on the mound? And will this good baseball be consistent for the next 161 games?
‘First one for us gave us motivation and confidence,” said Santana. It could not have been said better than that for these Mets with newcomers as the season of 2010 begins on a high note.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]