Energized Mets down Dodgers in opener
Offense, defense, bullpen coming together at the right time
NEW YORK -- Barely an inning into Thursday night's game, the suddenly rejuvenated Mets whooped when Endy Chavez gunned down Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre at home plate, preventing him from scoring on a fly ball to right. Chavez threw the ball on a line, Brian Schneider blocked the plate and Pierre -- speed and all -- had little chance to score.
It was baseball perfection, and just last week, it might never have happened.
"That's a carryover from last night," Scott Schoeneweis said. "That's a huge play, and that's a big lift. That was an emotional play in my mind."
It was not the decisive play, nor did the Mets need it to be. Certainly, they hit well enough and pitched well enough to earn a decisive win even without it, beating the Dodgers, 8-4, and earning their third straight victory at Shea Stadium.
"We've been playing the way we're capable of playing," Schoeneweis said. "There's energy. There's emotion. We're making all the plays."
Sounds unique, if not downright uncanny. Not that anything the Mets did on this night was all that remarkable. David Wright hit two home runs -- an impressive feat, but one that he's achieved before, and one that he'll likely achieve again. Chavez beat out an infield single -- one of his fortes -- and the bullpen shut down a strong Dodgers lineup. None of it stood out individually, but collectively, it all helped produce a win.
And that's just the thing. These Mets haven't done a whole lot collectively well this year. They've played fragmented baseball for most of the season's first two months, shining in one area while struggling in another. And they've endured so much speculation recently that their manager, Willie Randolph, might not be their manager much longer.
Through it all, they've lost as many games as they've won. Perhaps until now.
"Winning equals fun in my book," Wright said. "When we win a few games, guys can smile a little bit. Those off-field distractions are behind us. We can just go out there and do what we love to do, and that's play baseball."
Leave it to Wright to have fun. How could he not, after blasting two home runs early on Thursday to give the Mets a lead they never relinquished? The first of them he dumped into the outfield bleachers in the third inning, driving in Luis Castillo. The second he hit just an inning later, pushing the margin to six runs.
On both occasions there were two outs in the inning -- his second home run came only after starter Claudio Vargas reached base on a catcher's interference call. Rather than squandering the extra opportunity, the Mets used it to their advantage.
That's what good teams are supposed to do. And that's what the Mets did.
"That's a back-breaker," Wright said. "When you get those big two-out hits, those big two-out RBIs, they just take the air out of your [opponent's] sails. Those are golden."
Vargas, to his credit, kept the Mets in the game, cooling off after a quick start but lasting long enough to limit the Dodgers to four runs in 5 2/3 innings. He didn't win the game, but he certainly didn't lose it, either. Instead he set the table for what transpired next.
One of the team's most consistent relievers, Pedro Feliciano, entered in the sixth and allowed a run-scoring single to James Loney, the only man he faced.
Randolph came back to the mound and called on Carlos Muniz. He didn't particularly want to -- all but assuming Feliciano would end the inning -- but he did nonetheless.
Muniz struck out the next batter, then gave way to Schoeneweis, who pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Joe Smith made quick work of the final four Dodgers.
"Schoeneweis has been outstanding," Randolph said. "I just want to give him props, because he's taking the ball and really keeping us in a lot of games."
Schoeneweis credited so many others -- and certainly, they deserved that credit. Chavez, for one, made his throw and also beat out an infield single to plate an insurance run. Carlos Delgado collected two hits and made a diving stop on a would-be double. Castillo produced three hits, and Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran each had two.
But mostly, Schoeneweis credited the bullpen. After all, that's what relievers do.
"Relief pitching and pitching in general is very streaky," Schoeneweis said. "I really am uncomfortable with talking about success, because it can end real quick."
So, too, can it begin real quick. It certainly did on this night.
"It worked out good," Muniz said. "We've got some good mojo working."
And so the Mets have turned a corner. Perhaps, eventually, they'll turn another one, and end up right back where they started. But for now they're not looking that way. They're looking ahead -- straight ahead -- with little reason to avert their gaze.
Talent is one thing. The Mets have always had talent. But now there's a confidence, a swagger, a feeling that the past three days hold a lot more weight than the previous eight weeks. That's foolish thinking, of course -- one glance at the standings shows that the damage has been done. But it's also precisely the kind of thinking these Mets need.
"It's been about what it should be," Wright said, "and that's baseball."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.