For one day everything was perfect, as the Mets beat the Braves on Opening Day, 1-0. If you are Sandy Alderson, the victory is extra sweet, as most of his offseason acquisitions played a big role in the outcome. New center fielder Andres Torres scored the game’s only run. New relievers Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco combined for 3.1 scoreless innings, with Francisco retiring three LHB (his personal Kryptonite last year) to pick up the save.
Even Ronny Cedeno got in on the act. Inserted as a defensive replacement for Daniel Murphy, who had two hits and who handled both of his chances in the field, in the ninth inning, Cedeno cleanly fielded a hard-hit ball. With an off day on Friday, everyone has a chance to bask in the Opening Day victory, with Alderson smiling more than most.
THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG: While the Mets were able to trot out a lineup with all of their regulars on Opening Day, they could not make it through the game without suffering an injury to a starter. Torres re-aggravated his injured calf and immediately left the game. Scott Hairston replaced him in center field and recorded one of the Mets’ seven hits in his only at-bat. The Mets are likely to promote Kirk Nieuwenhuis to take Torres’ spot on the roster. The dilemma is that Nieuwenhuis needs ABs but can the Mets afford to give him those in the majors? The safest thing would be for Terry Collins to run a Hairston-Nieuwenhuis platoon, where the rookie would get the majority of the at-bats.
ONE-RUN WINS: Last year the Mets were 21-28 in one-run games and did not pick up their first one-run win until April 17th, which also came against Tommy Hanson and the Braves, as Dillon Gee outdueled the young Atlanta ace. The Mets were 2-1 last year in games with a 1-0 score, with Gee earning a win on May 19th against the National and R.A. Dickey defeating the Marlins on September 7th. Dickey wound up on the wrong end of a 1-0 game 10 days later, as the Braves gave the Mets their only 1-0 defeat of the year.
NEW WALL NO FACTOR: Much was made in the offseason about the new dimensions of Citi Field. Nearly as much was made about the Mets not having a day of practice in their home park with the new wall, as they played their first game of the regular season one day after their final Grapefruit League game. But neither issue turned out to be a factor on Thursday. The Mets and Braves combined for 11 hits and the wall was absent, despite a bunch of fly balls in the game. Jason Bay was the only Met player to come close to a HR, as he sent a ball to the warning track in left on what appeared to be a less-than-perfect swing.
THE ACE RETURNS: By far the biggest news was the return of Johan Santana, a story which has been covered to death everywhere else. Santana cruised through the first four innings before running out of gas in his final frame. But he escaped a bases-loaded jam and it is hard to imagine his debut going any better. The Mets wanted to limit him to around 80 pitches and he ended up throwing 84, with 50 going for strikes. He struck out five, walked two and allowed two hits.
Santana threw a fastball 54 times, with 89.7 being his fastest pitch. He also threw 16 sliders and 14 changeups. On average, there was a 10 mph difference between his fastball and change. While some may be disappointed with his velocity, Santana got 13 swinging strikes in the game, an indication that his stuff was plenty good.
For awhile, everyone will hold their breath and see how Santana recovers between starts. But it was far from a sure thing that he would be healthy for Opening Day, so the outing is an unqualified success. Torres getting hurt puts a damper on the win but Santana’s outing is clearly a reason for joy.