New relief corps has Mets thinking big
Stellar performance on Opening Day raises expectations
CINCINNATI -- The fantasy extrapolation already has begun, no doubt. Inspired by how the Mets' bullpen prevailed Monday in its first test, those who endured last September -- participants and patrons alike -- are poised to declare the Mets as "fixed" and to set aside time in October and early November for postseason baseball at Citi Field.
Opening Day is all about hope and fantasy and applying what happened in the first game to the remaining 161. So because Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez shut down the Reds for 3 1/3 innings Monday, the remaining games somehow will be less challenging, the last three innings will become a baseball "no fly" zone. Just listen:
"That's what they're expecting from us the whole year long," K-Rod said in the afterglow of Mets 2, Reds 1.
"That's what this team is going to be all about, and we showed it today," Johan Santana said. "If we're able to do that throughout the whole season, we're going to be in pretty good shape."
Players -- even seasoned veterans, save record holders and two-time Cy Young Award winners -- are not immune to the intoxicating effects of Opening Day. They extrapolate without numbers, which is as dangerous as multiplying all that happened Monday by 162. So Daniel Murphy will drive in 324 runs and hit 162 home runs.
A more sober perspective is called for, and it will develop soon enough unless the Mets are the 1984 Tigers reincarnate and wire-to-wire is in their plans. But why not go with it as long as it lasts?
"That would be a nice way to go," Santana said. "I'd like to know what that feels like."
If a piece of reality floats in the sea of optimism, it is the line drive Murphy caught to end the sixth inning. With Joey Votto -- the seventh and final baserunner allowed by Santana -- on second base, Green was summoned to face Edwin Encarnacion, a nemesis for Santana. Encarnacion smoked Green's fifth pitch, a 1-2 breaking ball. It had the look of a gapper that would tie the score at 2 and create a significant smudge on the lens through which the game and the first work of the new bullpen would be viewed.
Imagine all the deja vu sensations.
What stood between a tie score and the first of the 10 outs achieved by the revamped bullpen was a left fielder of limited defensive skills who nonetheless got a good read on Encarnacion's ball and made a running catch. All things considered, it is the play of the year.
In some ways, his play was reminiscent of the stop Jose Valentin made on Opening Night, two years earlier. Playing second base, he dived to his right and made the play on a ball hit sharply and up the middle by Scott Rolen. Then he initiated a brilliant double play. A potential two-run single became two outs.
"You like to make a big play on Opening Day. It's a good sign when you make a play like that," second baseman Luis Castillo said of Murphy's grab. "First game, it sets a tone. You feel good about it. You feel you're going to have a good year."
But the 2007 season didn't end as the Mets would have had it end. Opening Day games -- victories or losses -- are not the first in a row of falling dominoes.
The Mets wish they could be. They've won 31 of their past 40 first games. And look what it did for them. They lost on Opening Day 2000 and reached the World Series. They had won on Opening Day each of the previous three years before this one, and the seasons ended in bitter disappointment.
Or, as Brian Schneider said Monday after a solid and uplifting team performance that included elements the Mets had hoped to see: "It's just the first game, that's all. It's only Opening Day."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.