Wright's homer only beginning in Mets win
Johan excellent; offense comes alive late to pile on Marlins
NEW YORK -- Because whatever happens on Opening Day in this city is routinely amplified to the point of distortion, what the Mets accomplished Monday afternoon is a big deal. Even though they customarily prevail in the first games of seasons, their matinee success against the Marlins drew raves from participants, observers and even adversaries. The 2010 Mets borrowed a marketing phrase from the 1980s, and played baseball as it ought to be played. They used some power, some pitching, some speed and -- particularly in center field -- some defense.
What the Mets did best, however, in producing a rousing 7-1 victory was this: they made no mistakes -- or at least none that mattered. And make no mistake, after how they performed last season, before and after the spate of injuries undermined them, playing without mistakes is a most notable achievement regardless of what number game it is.
"We gave them a little bit of everything and all of it was good," Gary Matthews Jr. said, though he had provided more than most -- eight putouts -- in his return to Flushing.
After contributing two hits, an RBI and a run in his debut with the Mets, Rod Barajas called it "a perfect day, a perfect game, the perfect outcome, a perfect way to start the season."
And he was speaking only in the first-person plural. No one questioned Barajas' choice of modifier, others were more judicious in their evaluations.
"How about 'well-scripted'?" Jason Bay, the third new Mets regular, said.
"The manner in which we did it ... that part was perfect for the kind of team we are."
If manager Jerry Manuel had bothered with a to-do list before the Mets' 49th Opening Day, a number of entries were checked off during the franchise's 32nd season-opening victory and fifth in a row. The Mets produced four hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position and a big inning -- four runs. They padded a 6-1 lead and hit for the team cycle with four singles, doubles by Barajas, Matthews and Jeff Francoeur, a triple by Bay and a home run by David Wright. They had a successful pinch-hit at-bat, by Angel Pagan, and stole two bases. They scored a runner from third base -- a sacrifice fly by Francoeur did that -- and they didn't stub their toe on an attempted squeeze. Just a foul ball resulted.
"This is the type of ballclub we have to be, day in and day out," Manuel said. "We can't afford lapses."
Moreover, Johan Santana, Fernando Nieve and Frankie Rodriguez slammed shut the door left open after a so-so exhibition season had suggested the average score of a Mets victory might be 7-6.
The overall performance and that the Mets finally overcame Josh Johnson put a conspicuous line between 2009 and '10, between 70-92 and the hope this team has that it will reverse those numbers. The win was clean and crisp, like the weather conditions. "I guess it turned the page from last year," Bay said -- though he hadn't endured the darkness of 2009, he reveled in the light of '10.
Santana, who pitched six innings, wasn't close to dominant, especially in the first three. But he retired the side in order in the first two, and, in between, Wright made a statement -- unwittingly and almost unwillingly. He hit a 1-0 fastball from Johnson (7-1 against the Mets in his career) down the right-field line. It was well-hit, well-placed and well-received by a sellout crowd.
"I know he probably doesn't want to make a big thing out of it," Francoeur said. "But I think it was big for us and the fans and for him. So much was made about him not hitting home runs last year. I'm sure it was nice to get the first one out of the way. And the way he high-fived [hitting coach Howard Johnson], I'd say David was pretty pumped."
Wright, who hit a home run in the first game at Citi Field last season, hit nine more, regardless of site, in 2009, prompting worries, wild theories and a winter of work with Johnson. His power hasn't been restored so much as it has been recovered.
In his Derek Jeter-esque nature, Wright spoke in bottom-line phrases with we and us meaning.
"It meant two runs," he said. "It was good to get a lead on a great pitcher -- a pitcher who has always been real tough on us. I'm excited to hit a home run, but it's not about home runs; I don't judge my success by home runs. We're not going to live or die on home runs."
At the same time, his friend/batting coach expressed a different opinion.
"I know he tried to take it all in stride. But with all that happened to him last year, this was a lightning bolt," Johnson said. "It puts something to bed a little bit for him. It gives him some swagger back. And when you have that swagger, you feel like you can do anything in the game."
Santana now has a 4-1 record in five Opening Day starts -- three with the Mets. He allowed four hits -- two in the sixth when the Marlins scored -- and two walks. His strikeouts numbered five. But he needed 103 pitches for 18 outs, a high ratio for him. Nieve provided two scoreless innings before Rodriguez pitched a clean ninth with Matthews making the last two plays, not without difficulty.
"Absolutely an adventure," said Matthews, who had never seen the Citi before the workout Sunday -- and the park he saw then was not what he fought most of Monday. "The wind picks up, the sun is in your eyes, the ball goes up, and you're the only one who can get to it.
"But I want to be the one there -- no complaints for me."
"Was it that bad?" Bay, who hadn't had to pursue a fly ball, asked facetiously. "I didn't feel like it was my first day."
Wright made a throwing error that was forgiven -- and it wouldn't have been an error if Fernando Tatis, the substitute first baseman, had handled his glove more in the mold of Keith Hernandez. The only other thing the Mets did wrong was when Francoeur failed to kick a runaway beach ball back into the stands.
"[Umpire] Laz Diaz asked me if this was the pass, punt and kick competition," Francoeur said.
"But I'll take it, I love today. This is what it was like when we [the Braves] used to come in here. This is the way I imagined it when I got here last year. ... But I'll take this year. So far, this year is better."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.