The Mets almost always pass the first test. They won another home opener on Friday, a 10-3 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks with sun-drenched Citi Field. It’s their 61st season and the 40th time they’ve won their first home game.
That equates to a .656 winning percentage for the Mets in their annual introduction to New York fans. In all other games, their winning percentage is 0.479. The first impression does not always stick.
This time, however, things could really be different. The Mets have the best record in the major leagues, at 6-2. They are missing two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom through injury, but their starters have a 1.32 ERA. On Friday, they lost two everyday outfielders to the Covid-19 disabled list, and still beat the poor Diamondbacks.
“It’s a great day to be a New York Met today,” said Francisco Lindor, who didn’t have enough great days last year, in his turbulent first season with the team. Lindor scored three runs Friday, walking twice, stealing a base and slamming his second and third homers of the season. In 2021, his third home run didn’t come until May 15, and he had a sub-0.200 batting average through June.
For the Mets and their fans, Friday was a time to believe that the organization can be at its best. The Mets have finally honored Tom Seaver, who died in 2020, with the statue he deserved years ago: a towering 10-foot Franchise monument in stride. Think of all the parents and grandparents who can point to it, now and forever, as the definition of drop-and-drive, a master mechanic.
The statue, by William Behrends, stands near the entrance to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the grand entrance to the baseball stadium built by Fred Wilpon. Hit the Wilpons all you want for ignoring Mets history when the stadium opened in 2009, but they understood that a tribute to Robinson would transcend team loyalty.
The exhibits in the rotunda, reminiscent of Ebbets Field, are a powerful and lasting reminder of the most important person in baseball history. On the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with Brooklyn, a player named after him, Robinson Canó, hit the first home run of the day.
Canó – wearing No. 42, as all players do, once a year, to mark the moment the color line has fallen – is a problematic torchbearer, returning this season after a year-long suspension for another failed test for performance-enhancing drugs. But the Mets were happy to have him in the lineup Friday, with Mark Canha and Brandon Nimmo unavailable.
Both players tested positive for coronavirus – as did bench coach Glenn Sherlock – despite being declared asymptomatic. Canha is fully vaccinated and boosted, and Nimmo has not disclosed her status. A player can return sooner than 10 days with two negative PCR tests, but vaccinated players are generally allowed to return sooner than unvaccinated ones.
“It’s part of life in the 2020s,” manager Buck Showalter said, “not to mention baseball.”
Without Canha and Nimmo, Showalter gave Jeff McNeil his third start in left field and put Canó in second. Travis Jankowski – who played at Stony Brook University ten years ago – started in center field and made three singles. Starling Marte got off to her usual start on the right foot and did it all: a steal, a home run, two singles and three runs.
The Mets signed Marte for four years and $78 million as part of Steven A. Cohen’s pre-lockdown spending spree. It was a lot of money for a 33-year-old leaning on his legs and once suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, but it fit Cohen’s mission to win now.
The Mets’ Opening Day roster was the oldest of the majors, with an average age of 31.3, but they’re playing with a young spirit; Marte, who loves cartoons, wears a necklace with a sparkling Mickey Mouse pendant. He seems delighted with his new surroundings.
“We always help each other,” Marte said through an interpreter. “After an at-bat, a guy will come and give me advice, or I’ll give someone else advice. But it’s really special to have guys at such different levels of experience to be able to contribute and be ready to help each other.
Marte, who finished last season with Oakland, wasn’t the only 33-year-old scion of the cost-cutting A’s to end up in Flushing. Starter Chris Bassitt worked six solid innings on Friday and won for the second time this season.
For the old-timers, it was reminiscent of the throwing line of Seaver’s last opening performance in New York: a dazzling six-inning run against the Philadelphia Phillies to start the 1983 season. That season ended badly for the Mets, who finished in last place and then lost Seaver to the Chicago White Sox when they failed to protect him in a free agent compensation draft.
Now the Met’s greatest is home – for good, in bronze, a reminder of the team’s glory days on an afternoon that promised more to come.