NY Sports Day
Andy Esposito

Esposito: Opening Day Feeds Expectations

(John Franco, Rusty Staub, and Edgardo Alfonzo Raise The Pennant – Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

Throughout the winter, calls to sports radio stations and the occasional media column kept declaring that 2016 would carry the greatest expectations for an upcoming Mets season ever.

To a great extent, that may be so, but how quickly sometimes the past can be relegated to the back of the closet. Expectations are always great in New York, and with the 30th Anniversary of the World Champion 1986 Mets upon us, those who enjoyed that experience can never forget those expectations heading into 1987.

Can this year’s expectations exceed those from the spring of ’87, when it felt like the Mets had built a dynasty virtually guaranteed to dominate for years to come?

The ’86 Mets boasted of a dominating pitching staff with five consistent starters – Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera – who averaged 33 starts apiece and went 76-30 on their own (3.12 ERA collectively). The two-headed closer of Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco saved 43 games between them, almost democratically split between the pair, 22 for Roger, 21 for Jesse.

The lineup was stocked with a future Hall of Famer behind the plate, Gary Carter (.255, 24 home runs, 105 RBIs), the perennial Gold Glover at first in Keith Hernandez (.310, 13, 83), who some say should be in the Hall of Fame, the big bopper in the outfield, Darryl Strawberry (.259, 27, 93), who many say wasted Hall of Fame talent (along with No. 16), and successful platoon tandems at second base (Wally Backman and Tim Teufel), centerfield (Mookie Wilson and Len Dykstra), and almost, but not quite, a platoon at third base with Ray Knight and Howard Johnson sharing duties.

And all of it led by a field general heralded as a pioneer in the mastery of using stats, the computer, and keen savvy to a record of 108-54, Davey Johnson.

Yes, the ’86 Mets survived a thrilling and nerve-wracking six-game NLCS against the Astros, and the emotional seven-game World Series versus the Red Sox, highlighted by one of baseball’s greatest games, actually two, Game 6 in the NLCS, and Game 6 in the Fall Classic.

The future was bright. The future would be filled with World Championships.

So what happened?

It didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong. The Mets still fielded a good team and went 92-70 despite some very controversial headline-inducing incidents. You could fill books with the details, and some have – Gooden confessed to a drug problem in spring training and went to rehab. All five starters spent time on the DL. Injuries plagued the whole team throughout the year.

They finished second behind the St. Louis Cardinals (95-67), who went on to lose to the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. But without the Wild Card, the Mets never got the chance to challenge the Cardinals in the postseason.

There were expectations after 1969 as well. After all, the Miracle Mets won 100 games before shocking all of baseball by beating the Baltimore Orioles for the franchise’s first World Championship. But they fell back to Earth in 1970 with a record of 83-79.

The team that went to the Series in ’73 could be considered a fluke of sorts, winning just 82 games, but that was just barely good enough to top the NL East, and then they got hot against the Pete Rose-led Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS before falling to Oakland in the Fall Classic.

Of course there were expectations after the Subway Series of 2000. Wasn’t that supposed to occur every year?

Those expectations were primed in ’98, when the team acquired soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. It was stoked in ’99, when many say that was the best aggregation from that era. But it all clicked in 2000 when they went 94-68. But again, 2001 brought disappointment when the club barely scaled .500, 82-80.

All of those memories and failed expectations bring us to 2016, where the future again looks so bright, you’ve got to wear shades. Again, the Mets have a dominating rotation – some say amongst the best young rotations in the history of the game. The infield defense has been improved with the acquisitions of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, plus there are now two outfielders with Gold Gloves in their trophy cases.

Plus, having the likes of Michael Conforto from Day One, who certainly looks quite comfortable patrolling left field, and the always reliable Curtis Granderson in right creates a consistent line of defense.

It all still comes back to the pitching, and in the first three games, the staff is living up to those expectations. Those first two games in Kansas City again proved that KC is a pesky team, and that Noah Syndergaard can still dominate that lineup. Matt Harvey did not pitch poorly, despite being saddled with the loss in the first game.

Jacob deGrom was impressive in the home opener, despite chilling winds that made a 47 degree day feel more like a 27 degree day. In the sixth, however, deGrom felt some tightness in his right lat muscle, with some back soreness, and took himself put smartly not wanting to push it on such a cold day.

Still waiting for the call from his wife in Florida that she’s about to give birth to their first child, deGrom did not feel it necessary to even go for an MRI, or to Florida, yet, but will check with the doctors on Saturday if the condition worsens.

deGrom yielded five hits in his six innings of work with six punchouts. The bullpen again did their job, giving up just three hits to finish out the game, one run, and five more strikeouts. There was no save.

The bullpen has not allowed an earned run in the first three games, 8.1 innings of work.

The season has kicked off with expectations intact.

What did you expect?

OPENING MOMENTS:

Tim Teufel has switched back to his number as a player, 11. In recent years, the team’s third base coach has been covering his former Mets teammate Darryl Strawberry’s uniform designation by wearing 18, but after Ruben Tejada was released, 11 became available again.

Mets pitching coach is now wearing 38, but that was not his number as a pitcher in the ‘70s. Warthen wore 39 with the Montreal Expos, 33 with the Philadelphia Phillies, and 31 with the Houston Astros between 1975-78. But the number 59 he formerly carried on his back was requested by new Mets reliever Antonio Bastardo, hence the new designation. And all three of his playing numbers were either “occupied” by either Jerry Blevins (39), or Matt Harvey (33), and 31 will soon be retired on behalf of Mike Piazza. So welcome to 38, Dan, last worn by Vic Black in 2014.

Longtime Mets PR Assistant Shannon Forde, who passed away in March due to breast cancer, was honored with a pregame moment of silence. Ms. Forde, so beloved by everyone in baseball – and we do mean everyone – was also honored by six teams during spring training when she died at the age of 44 with moments of silence, and a memorial service conducted in her honor at Citi Field was attended by approximately 1,000 mourners.

Mets players are now honoring Shannon’s memory by dedicating a postgame victory belt in her name. In a tradition started last season by former Met Michael Cuddyer, the team created a Championship belt in the manner of a wrestling Championship which now goes to who they declare as the “player of the game” after every win. That belt is now decorated with a shamrock, as Ms. Forde hailed of Irish descent, and a pink breast cancer ribbon.

Antonio Bastardo became the 1,012th Met in team history when he entered the home opener in the ninth inning to close out the 7-2 victory. It was the 8,619th game for the franchise, giving them an overall record of 4,130-4,481. That leaves them only 351 games short of a .500 record!
Hey, they went 40-120 in ’62, which put them in the whole right away!

The home opener drew an announced attendance of 44,099, making it the largest regular season crowd in Citi Field’s now eighth year of existence.


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