(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
When the 2015 National League Championship flag was raised before the game at a cold and windy Citi Field Friday afternoon, that to the New York Mets was the start of 2016 in front of a record crowd of 44,099 in their home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. They know what was accomplished not too long ago as do the enthusiastic fans but they want to finish the job.
And the new faces in the lineup, along with some of the familiar ones know that coming up short at Citi Field last November 1st to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series is now a great memory. So a 7-2 Opening Day win is a good start after splitting the first two games of a new season in Kansas City, and the enthusiasm is expected to continue.
“Focus on another 159 games..2015 is over,” said the manager Terry Collins after Jacob deGrom tossed six innings and one earned run in getting his first win of the season.
And after that last pitch in early November,] the emphasis when the Mets’ convened for 2016 was to move ahead and finish the job. With deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon on the mound the expectations are this young pitching staff, with Colon the veteran, will lead the Mets to that final step and bring their first world championship flag since 1986.
The new faces are also a component that will hopefully get them there.
“He is going to be a very good hitter,” Collins said about Michael Conforto. The left fielder is slated to be a platoon player but could work his way into starting more against left handed pitching after a three RBI day that tied his career high.
“He’s going to drive in runs. Right now, we kind of like the platooning thing but Michael Conforto is going to be a good player in this league for a long time,” Collins said.
As will that young pitching be around for a long time, and of course if baseball economics does not get in the way, Conforto will get to start many more Opening Day games at Citi Field. The 23-year old, and 2014 first round pick of the Mets made an impression when he was called up from Binghamton AA last July 24th.
“It’s a little bit backwards,” Conforto said referring to getting a feel of the big moment and that World Series experience of last season. “But I’m happy to be here with this team again.” There was no doubt he would be here in April despite the return of Yoenis Cespedes, and with less than 80 games on the resume the kid has proved he belongs on the big stage.
Conforto had an RBI double in the sixth inning to right that got Phils starter Jerad Eickhoff out of the game. It was a late inning at bat that did not happen when he was called up last year but this can become a regular occurrence.
“It’s a great feeling helping this team put runs on the board and giving some extra cushion,” he said. “Everybody from top to bottom we are all solid hitters, on the bench, we’re deep. We are going to put some runs on the board and our pitching will keep runs off the board. “
He also said it was a great feeling seeing the NL championship flag go up by the new Coca Cola porch in right field and there are maybe expectations to get those late game opportunities against lefthanded pitching. An impressive at bat in the seventh,a two-run single off a left handed reliever that gave the Mets a 6-1 lead could lead to more of those at bats for Conforto.
“Definitely be prepared to get those matchups to be the guy up there,” he said. “Be prepared for those bats. Either way I’m going to be excited for my teammates and get runs on the board.” He wants the ultimate to get that big trophy in October after getting that early experience of being on the big stage of a World Series and postseason.
And it was that energy of the fans, and how another newcomer Neil Walker contributed to this Opening Day at home win. Walker was acquired from Pittsburgh for his glove at second and he can hit to the opposite field as well, and in three games he has knocked in five runs.
Going 2-for-4, along with two RBI in a Mets debut at Citi Field will make fans quickly forget about Daniel Murphy.
“This is the first time in my career obviously that I’ve gone to a new team,” Walker said. Obviously you want to make good impressions. At the same time you have to pull back the reins at times and say, “You know what? I need to just play my game’ and fans or whoever will make up their minds about it.”
He added, “Whether they like me or not at the end of the year I’ll let my numbers speak for themselves.” Walker did get an enthusiastic and loud ovation when he was introduced on the field as part of the pre game festivities and quickly became a fan favorite with a hit to right center against a left hander.
And that may be a difference, Conforto and Walker hitting the left hander. Collins certainly sees that as a difference that will make the Mets move on now to what they want in 2016.
“The middle of that lineup is going to be pretty good,” Collins said. And every indication is the Mets will get that production if Conforto and Walker hit the lefty as good as they do against the righthander. Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and David Wright did not have much of an impact but they are expected to get many good at bats as the season progresses at Citi Field.
Said Conforto, “ I think that’s what we’re all expecting.”
And for Mets fans,who always expect more, this may just be the beginning. Collins said there are 159 more games to go as the long season gets started, and those new faces at Citi Field moved the baseball calendar to 2016 for the New York Mets.