Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Get Started, Start a Fire

Game 1 – Mets

Mets 3, Nationals 2
Record: 1-0

Last year, right in the face of the frenzied optimism about Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, and the “New Mets,” the team uncorked the season with a late-inning implosion. That debacle and the ensuing sense that these new Mets were better but still Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time players quickly became a rockslide of a first week. And though 0-5 became 6-5 after the next week, tone-setting opening scenes cannot be deleted that quickly. The feeling that if the Mets could be swept by the lowly Reds out of the gate they might be in some trouble over the long haul – it proved fairly accurate.

The tone of the tip-off is usually dismissed as “just one game.” And anything that doesn’t go your club’s way over the next month? “It’s still only April.” And of course it’s true, but there is no escaping the emotional lift or drain Opening Day provides. More times than fans would care to realize, it’s an augury for the season’s outlook. When the Mets took a 15-2 beating at the hands of the Cubs three years ago, boy, was that an accurate forecast. (As was the Red Sox losing a heartbreaker that same night.) Last year’s Looper-fied letdown was indicative of a just-short kind of squad. Here’s hoping yesterday’s solid display defines 2006 perfectly for the new, new Mets.

Sometimes it’s not Opening Day per se, but the opening series. In ’04, the Mets knocked off the Braves in Game 1, and Mets fans were ecstatic. Two days later, however, after allowing 18 and 10 runs in Games 2 and 3, well . . . we were readied for a 71-win season. So while optimism is cresting after a close win over a division rival at Shea yesterday, I am counting on the Metropolitans to build upon that tomorrow and Thursday. Let’s face it, the Nationals have a few sparks in that lineup, and Livan Hernandez is an actual ace (as opposed to many roles on the Nats being filled by “but I play one on TV” personnel) but the club from the nation’s capital is pegged for 65 wins, roughly. (And I do mean roughly. Thank you, Bud Selig.)

So what of the actual game? Tom Glavine’s slow-and-slower mélange kept the Nationals off-balance for six strong innings. In his fourth year, the guy is finally growing on me. (As I type that, I can’t believe this is already his fourth year as a Met. Who knew?) Aaron Heilman shrewdly attempted to extricate himself from middle relief by getting knocked around, but a fine relay from Floyd-to-Reyes-to-LoDuca – and a missed drop by the home plate umpire – saved the inning with minimal damage. (Hey, having karma lined up for you from Day 1 ain’t too shabby, either.) Billy Wagner entered and closed it out, thanks to rookie baserunning from the most tenured ExpoNat, Jose Vidro.

On the helmeted side of the equation, our hero David Wright homered, Xavier Nady notched four hits, and Glavine himself singled twice. Meanwhile, the Mets’ Latin contingent went 0-for-18 and left 19 men on base. Whoops. Individual stats, of course, must get shrugged off with one of the quips quoted above, but it would be nice to see some of the muscle Omar brought on board do some flexing.

For now, let’s zero in on Brian Bannister vs. John Patterson Wednesday night. Life is good in the Township today, but it’s still too hazy to see what’s on the horizon.

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