MIAMI -- Symbolically, at least, the Mets' 6-2 Opening Day loss to the Marlins represented all the wrong things. It proved that despite a new manager, a new general manager, a new rotation, a new bullpen, a new second baseman and a brand new start, these Mets still have the ability to be pedestrian. If things don't break right, the summer could grow long. Difficult. Frustrating.
To judge the Mets on just this one game, however, would be monumentally unfair. This team did little wrong on Friday evening, save for running into an adrenaline-infused version of their old nemesis, Josh Johnson. For six innings, Johnson baffled them. And still the Mets mustered a bit of pluck at the end, taking a would-be romp and molding it into a game.
"I wasn't deflated at all," manager Terry Collins said. "It was just one of those nights. We've got 161 to go."
If there was a negative to be drawn from Friday's opener, it was that Mike Pelfrey served up a grand slam to John Buck, walked four batters and allowed five runs in all -- not that Johnson held the Mets hitless over the first six innings. The reigning National League ERA leader, Johnson is one of the game's best pitchers, a perennial All-Star, a Cy Young contender and a bona fide staff leader.
The greater issue is that the Mets, minus Johan Santana, need their ace-by-default to develop into the same.
Pelfrey showed no signs of doing so Friday -- or even of replicating last season's strong performance -- when he served up Buck's opposite-field slam in the fourth. After walking Mike Stanton, allowing a double to Gaby Sanchez and pitching around Logan Morrison to load the bases, Pelfrey faced Buck and tailed a high sinker back over the outside half of the plate.
Standing on the mound, he figured it for a sacrifice fly. In right field, Carlos Beltran thought he had a beat on it. But the result was a grand slam -- the 16th the Mets have allowed since hitting their last one in August 2009.
"I'm kind of a fly ball hitter," Buck said. "I was thinking, 'Make contact and get a run in.' The wind might have helped me."
Seemingly incapable of a comeback against Johnson, the Mets nonetheless mustered one when Willie Harris led off the seventh with a double to break up the no-hitter, before Beltran doubled him home and Ike Davis plated Beltran with a groundout. After rookie second baseman Brad Emaus then walked with two outs to chase Johnson, pinch-hitter Scott Hairston came to the plate as the potential tying run. Michael Dunn silenced him on four pitches to all but seal the outcome, but not before the Mets showed some resolve.
It was something, at least.
And there were other positives to take from Friday's opener. In addition to his key walk, Emaus turned a smooth double play and looked comfortable in his first Major League game. Bullpen additions Blaine Boyer, Pedro Beato and Taylor Buchholz combined for 3 2/3 innings of one-run relief. Beltran smacked his double with authority and looked natural in right field.
Yes, Johnson spoiled what might have been, but that's what Johnson does. That's who Johnson is.
"Josh Johnson's pretty special," third baseman David Wright said. "Those guys are really few and far between. That's why they get paid a ton of money and that's why they're such a rarity."
With Santana out for at least the first few months of this season, the Mets need Pelfrey also to become that rare kind of pitcher. Last season may have marked a modest step in that direction, but now the Mets need a leap. Unlike Johnson, Pelfrey does not throw in the mid-90s with a wicked breaking ball. But he does possess frontline stuff, and he has proven his ability to win.
Now, the Mets need him to prove his ability to do so night in, night out, consistently and unequivocally.
"If I could end up being like him, that'd be great," Pelfrey said of Johnson. "But in all reality, I think he's a lot farther ahead than I am in his career. The guy led the National League in ERA. The guy's obviously very, very talented and he was obviously very, very good tonight. He deserved to win and I didn't."
The result was a false start for the Collins era, a stumble for the Mets through South Florida's humidity -- all of which proved precisely nothing for this team.
Perhaps the Mets do remain unchanged. Perhaps Pelfrey won't take that next step. Perhaps what team owner Fred Wilpon referred to last October as a "losing culture" is still alive and well. One game can't provide those answers; only a long summer will reveal whether these are the old Mets, the new Mets or something in between.
For now, they are simply the Mets: an 0-1 team, one game out of first.
"It is what it is: a loss," Wright said. "Let's move on."