FLUSHING, NY – Maybe the first New York Mets home opener on a Friday since the 1995 season would make a difference. The 50th home opener, third at Citi Field, had the same result as the season closer last October, a loss to the Washington Nationals. The 6-2 loss to the Nationals Friday reminded many in the chilled sold out crowd of 41,075 that this could be a long season.
A reminder because the Mets did not hit, and pitch and that was so reminiscent of what was seen often at Citi Field in 2010. The debut of new manager Terry Collins got off to a good start with a warm welcome from fans in pre-game introductions. The loudest ovations went to new pitcher Chris Young and for Hall of Fame Broadcaster Ralph Kiner who threw the ceremonial first pitch.
And starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (1-1) got a loud ovation. But that changed because his knuckleball was not effective after he split a nail on his index finger in the first inning. Dickey was one of the bright spots for New York last season, but in his two starts he has walked eight batters in 11 innings including the five he issued against the Nationals.
“I’m not going to say the split nail led to the every walk,” commented Dickey. He walked a run in the fifth after the Nationals loaded the bases on three consecutive one-out singles. The fifth walk was a career high for Dickey. “It was just very tough to get the feel,” he said about the control issue due to the nail that he claims will not hinder his next start.
But Dickey was not the only issue the Mets encountered in their season debut at home. What bothered fans, as was so often the case last season was the Mets ineffective ability to drive in runs. Coming off a season opening 3-3 road trip, the Mets have lost three straight, the pitching staff has given up 27 runs, and in the last two games they are 1-17 with runners in scoring position including the ten they stranded Friday.
Frustrating for the fans in the early going, but not for the new manager who commented, “I am a long way from being frustrated.” But on opening day, an unusual 4pm start that lasted into evening, this was not what Collins would have wanted especially coming off an 11-0 loss to the Phillies on the last game of their trip the day before.
When Washington’s Ivan Rodriguez hit a two-run single to right that broke his season beginning 0-12 start, off Mets reliever Bobby Parnell that was followed by an RBI ground ball from Ian Desmond, the remaining crowd that had enough of the chill decided to call it a night. That was the deciding blow, the three-run eighth that ruined a season opener.
“We have to shake it off and do better than that,” said Collins. It is so early to be in a panic mode but if Collins does not see his team bounce back in the next few days then it could get frustrating. There was a point in the game when Collins and the fans loved a rejuvenated Jose Reyes. He dived to his left in the fifth inning and started an inning ending double play with the bases loaded that kept the game close.
Though few people give the Mets a chance to be competitive this season, a bright spot could be Reyes who may not be around by September. The financially strapped Mets may not be able to afford a new contract for their home grown shortstop and he could be traded depending on where the Mets are situated by late July.
But that is another issue for a later date. The focus will now be how resilient this team is with an early season losing streak of three games. And to forget about a home opener that took away optimism for any type of respectable season. The Mets fell to 31-19 in their home openers, 1-2 at Citi Field.
“We’ll score some runs and those guys will get on base,” said Collins about Angel Pagan, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Ike Davis who went a combined 2-for 15 at the plate. Washington starter Jordan Zimmerman (1-1) coming off Tommy John surgery in 2009 gave up two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Nationals pen then closed the door with the committee role manager Jim Riggleman is using.
“We walked to many guys that put us in a hole,” said Collins. He added his team will get better. His predecessor Jerry Manuel always said they would get better. But as every Mets fan knows, it did not get better.
A fresh start at Citi Field that did not get better in the later innings and when Dickey left the game it led to many questions for the next day. “Nobody in here is hitting the panic button,” said Dickey. “We are going to stay focused.”
But the question is will Mets fans stay focused if this first home stint of 2011 does not go their way?
E-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]