More optimism at Citi Field than Yankee Stadium
By Rich Mancuso
BRONX, NEW YORK, April 2- Perhaps when the New York Mets opened the 2013 season at Citi Field Monday afternoon they resembled teams of the past. One could say the 1982-83 teams at Shea Stadium are comparable, significant, because that became the building block to the championship year of 1986.
When the first pitch against the San Diego Padres was thrown the announced sell-out crowd of 41,053 had that optimism, but the Mets are years away from making an impact in the standings, and that was before all-star pitcher Johan Santana went down again with a season ending injury to his shoulder.
Santana has probably thrown his last pitch as a Met, and there are doubts the two-time Cy Young Award winner will resume his career. His highlight in New York was that 134-pitch no-hitter, and first in franchise history last June 1st at Citi Field. And speculation is that outing may have ruined his shoulder.
Regardless, Santana is no longer the ace of what is now a young and promising pitching staff. Jonathon Niese got the Opening Day nod, a task he prepared for weeks ago when manager Terry Collins informed the left hander that the job might be his.
So, as the first pitch was thrown in Flushing, Queens, one was also thrown by CC Sabathia in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium. For the first time the two New York baseball teams opened the season at home, same day and time. Unusual as it was, the first time since, 1956 when three baseball teams shared the spotlight in New York, another 49.000 plus saw Sabathia struggle and the Yankees lose their home opener.
However, inter league play and a new schedule for Major League Baseball caused the conflict. There will be more home and home series for the teams on the baseball calendar this year, another one coming later this month. As it has been explained, the Mets would not give in and change their opening date.
This is a Yankees town. The Mets know that, so do the fans. But Monday belonged to the Mets, and for one day they were the winning baseball team in town.
The Mets scored seven runs in three innings, and the effective start by Niese led to an 11-2 win over the Padres. It was the Mets 20th win in their last 22 season openers at home.
“The adrenaline was pumping, I’m not going to lie,” said Niese who went 6.2 innings, on two runs, striking out four in getting his first career opening day win. Niese also helped himself at the plate tying acareer high with two hits. He also had an RBI single in the second inning and scored in a three-run Mets fourth.
It was so reminiscent of the first half Mets of last season. They scored nine runs with two outs, and went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The clubhouse faces have changed, Collins is a lame duck manager, and a full house certainly helped the adrenaline and the rest of these 2013 New York Mets.
The new captain, David Wright had two stolen bases and drove in a run. This was an opening day win that fueled optimism after that dismal second half of 2012 that led to a fourth straight losing season for the Mets.
“So far, so good,” commented Wright who said he was sure to make the Opening Day roster after sitting out the last weeks of spring training with injuries to his rib cage.
Added Wright, “It was good to bust out offensively and get some breathing room for Jon.”
New York also got contributions from Ruben Tejada, who made his second consecutive home start at shortstop. Tejada doubled to left in the second inning, advanced to third on a bad throw and scored on the first single by Niese. The Padres’ Edinson Volquez once again was ineffective against the Mets and his five losses against New York are tied for the most against any team in his career.
“A good start is important, the spring is over,” said Tejada who struggled in 21 exhibition games, going 5-for-52. Collins approached him towards the latter part of the spring campaign and there was talk of not bringing him back to New York and to get extra work at Triple A, Las Vegas.
And the new faces contributed. Marlon Byrd with two RBI singles and the temporary and new catcher John Buck, in the middle of most of the rallies that saw New York put four more runs on the board in the seventh. The acquisitions of GM Sandy Alderson resemble those Mets teams before the 1986 championship season.
They can quickly become fan favorites, but to do so, as in the past, there has to be consistency. Byrd and Buck had RBI singles in the third inning.
“It definitely helped me settle in a little easier,” said Buck who will eventually sit down when the rookie Travis d’Arnaud arrives, a key player in the deal that saw Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey leave town.
Maybe the biggest impact was the new man in center field, 26-year old Collin Cowgill. The leadoff hitter won the job with a good spring and hit his first career grand slam home run off Brad Bach in the seventh.
“Just a humbling experience today,” he said. “This is a good clubhouse and everyone here can contribute to something nice.”
Mets fans have heard that in the past, but the unexpected does happen during the long course of a 162-game schedule.
Just ask Collins, who once again said, “It is day one. We have a long way to go. One thing we want to do is establish credibility to our fans.” And for one day, when both teams shared the spotlight, the Mets were off to the good start and the Yankees looked to regroup this week.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com