A Slam-Bang Opening with More on the Way

The Mets won on Opening Day, 11-2.

No surprise there, of course they won on Opening Day, as they have been doing so consistently the past 40 years, continuing their mastery of season debuts with the major’s best winning percentage (.654) and an overall mark of 34-18 on Opening Days. And this after losing the first eight Opening Days in franchise history, including the legendary Championship season of 1969, when they welcomed the Montreal Expos to the big leagues with an 11-10 loss.

Can you believe it? They’re 34-10 since that loss to the first Canadian club on Opening Day. They’ve won seven of their last eight openers, and are 20-2 in their last 22 opening days at home, another good reason why tickets to the day the Shea family presents the horseshoe-shaped flower arrangement to the manager go for a premium.

New centerfielder Collin Cowgill reinforced his growing legion of fans and chants of “More Cowgill” with his seventh inning Grand Slam against the Padres in the icebreaker. The only other Met to slice a Grand Salami on Opening Day was Todd Hundley back in 1995, in Colorado against Billy Swift.

And it is certainly not much of a shock to learn Cowgill is the only Met to hit a Grand Slam in his Mets debut.

The other Met to earn a headline of distinction, other than starter Jonathon Niese, who was good, but not great with a 6.2 inning stint (four hits, two earned runs, 2 walks, and four strikeouts), was new Mets pitcher Scott Rice, who made his major league debut after toiling in the minors and professional baseball for 14 years. What a long strange trip it had been for Rice, 31, a lefthanded California native, who had worn system uniforms for the Orioles, Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies, and Cubs, plus several teams in Independent leagues, including the Long Island Ducks.

Amazingly, and understandably, Rice had a few butterflies when he first exited the bullpen for his ninth inning appearance, but he also enjoyed a level of comfort which enabled him to hurl a clean inning with two strikeouts.

“Being with the team all through the spring, I just felt really comfortable,” Rice told the media after the game. “But once batters step in, it’s baseball. So I went out there and just tried to stay relaxed.”

The experience was made that much more special with his father in the stands.

“My dad has been the reason why I played baseball growing up,” Rice added. “He basically taught me the fundamentals and everything I know about baseball. He’s the guy I called after every outing. It’s nice that he was able to be there. It’s just as rewarding for him as it is for me.”

Mr. Rice now has a special souvenir for the trophy case, the baseball which ended the game and his son’s major league debut.

The mastery over the Padres continued in Game 2, as exalted sophomore Matt Harvey looked Goodenesque in the first three innings with five K’s and no hits.

His first appearance continued with a dynamic seven-inning shutout stint, with 10 strikeouts, one hit, and just two walks (94 pitches/63 strikes).

The Harvey Era is just warming up. But…

Manager Terry Collins took him out more so due to the blustery 44 degree weather than his pitching performance.

“He was freezing,” Collins remarked. “Under the circumstances, he threw an unbelievable game.”

When asked about Harvey’s overall ability, Collins was equally complimentary.

“His work ethic is unbelievable. He’s got all the skills. He has plus stuff, an outstanding changeup, and still throws 97, 98. Has command of the fastball.”

And his desire is off the charts.

“No question he enjoys the stage. He likes to be out there. He likes to compete. You don’t say you want to be the best there is unless you’re willing to pay the price.”

Lucas Duda maintained his spring training habit of hitting a few home runs, and launched a two-run blast in the second, his first home run of the year.

John Buck duplicated the feat with a two-run shot of his own in the fourth, scoring Duda, who had doubled to right preceding the new everyday catcher.

Ike Davis extended the home run barrage with his first of the year, denting the Shea-Bridge with a two-run arc in the fifth.

Bobby Parnell closed out what turned out to be a sloppy three-run ninth (not of his making) in a non-save situation for the eventual 8-4 victory, and just like that, the 2013 Mets were 2-0.

You can never tell until the games are played, but the Mets have a chance to get out of the gate with a gallop in April, as their first six games, and 13 of their first 16 games are against teams expected to finish below .500. Then again, the Mets are predicted to finish below .500 as well, but their spring showings have been impressive. If – and there’s the big IF – their starting pitching is as good as advertised, and the bullpen pours water and not gasoline on potential flare-ups, then the potential is evident for a healthy first month.

There’s also back-sliding in the forecast as well, with a resurgent Philadelphia, a money-stuffed Los Angeles, and the new powerhouse Washington on the menu.

But 15 of the first 27 games are against the likes of the Padres, Marlins, Rockies, and Minnesota Twins.

History can predict the future, but it can also paralyze predictions as one day does not always equal the next.

The Mets have done well against San Diego of late, taking four of seven games from the Pads in both 2011 and ’12.

New York also had the goods on those “brand-new” Marlins last year, going 12-6. But this year’s Marlins certainly bear little resemblance to last year’s Marlins, so time will tell if that dominance will be extended.

As for the Twins, they don’t show up on the schedule too often, but the Mets did take two of three in 2010. Overall, with only four seasons of play against the AL club managed by ex-Met Ron Gardenhire, the Twins hold the edge on the Mets, 7-5.

The Mets took the season series with the Phillies last year, 10-8. But the Broad Street bashers have some of their key players back from injuries since last season, so it may be tougher sledding this year.

The Dodgers were a nemesis in 2012, as they arguably always have been unkind to their New York offspring (258-314-1 in franchise history), besting the Mets in four of seven games last year. The Mets, however, “loved” LA in 2011, winning five of seven battles.

Perhaps the less said about the Nationals the better, as they killed the Mets in 14 of 18 contests last seasons. But how can you not love their skipper, Davey Johnson? When he’s managing the Nationals, that’s when. Mets fans will love him again next year, when he retires from managing, as he has stated.

One of the keys to a successful season is a successful April, so the Mets have that doorway open if they take the steps toward more Ws than Ls. The framework forged against the Padres will certainly aid that goal if they continue to blast and pitch.

Posted under Andy Esposito, California Native, Centerfielder, Flower Arrangement, Grand Salami, Grand Slam, Independent Leagues, Jonathon Niese, League Debut, Lefthanded, Long Island Ducks, New York Mets, Ninth Inning, Seventh Inning, Shea Family, Slam Bang, Strange Trip, Todd Hundley, Top Story