Blue skies, mid-60s temperatures, a record regular-season Citi Field crowd of 43,947 and a crisp, Jacob deGrom-led 2-0 shutout win. Yep, it was about as perfect an Opening Day the revitalized Mets faithful could have hoped for. So fine, so satisfying was this glorious afternoon in Flushing that it was easy to overlook all the underlying imperfections about it.
We’re not here to talk about a tepid Mets offense (1-for-9 with runners in scoring position) that was ominously all-too-reminiscent of last year, or the control issues by Jeurys Familia that required a Houdini-like DP by the new Met closer to quell all that ninth-inning angst, or even the fact that deGrom was not in possession of his best stuff and that his 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Phillies were a struggle all the way.
But then, isn’t that what aces – or, in his case, near-aces – do? Find a way?
After retiring the first seven batters of the game, two by strikeout, deGrom left Freddy Galvis stranded at second after a one-out single and a sacrifice by retiring Ben Revere on a fly to right. The next inning, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year was touched for a leadoff single through the right side to by Odubel Herrera only to be immediately bailed out by the ever-worrisome keystone combo of Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores, who turned Chase Utley’s hard hit grounder into a 4-6-3 DP. That loomed larger when Ryan Howard subsequently hit a hard shot off the bag at first into right field for a single. It took another fly ball out to end that inning.
“He didn’t have his ‘A’ game today,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of deGrom. “But he competes. He doesn’t let down. He’s getting used to the big stage.”
Indeed, whatever reason there was for deGrom not being able to put batters away via strikeouts, it was not a case of Opening Day jitters.
“It was fun,” deGrom said. “It kind of felt like my (major league) debut (last year). I was actually pretty calm, even though, early on, I realized I didn’t have my best stuff and my off-speed stuff wasn’t good and I had a hard time locating my fastball. (His batterymate) Travis (d’Arnaud) did a great job back there and I had great defense behind me.”
In the fifth, it was his own defense that effectively blunted another potential Phillie scoring threat when, after one-out singles by Cody Asche and Galvis, deGrom pounced on pitcher Aaron’s Harang’s attempted sac bunt in front of the mound and instinctively threw over to third to nail Asche. Collins later noted how all that PFP (pitchers fielding practice) the Mets do in spring training really came to fruition with both that play – and in the ninth when Familia rushed over to first base to get the relay throw from Flores to complete a 3-6-1 DP after he’d walked the leadoff man, Carlos Ruiz.
It was important that the Mets’ defense was also one of their perfect elements Monday because the offense surely didn’t leave them a whole of margin for error. Their first run, Juan Lagares’ two-out RBI single (that didn’t get past the pitchers’ mound) after Daniel Murphy’s double in the third, was their only hit with runners in scoring position all afternoon, and their second run came gift-wrapped after Utley uncharacteristically allowed Murphy’s hard-hit would-be double-play grounder through his legs in the eighth, sending Michael Cuddyer from first to third and in place for d’Arnaud’s sac fly.
Before that, they’d left Lagares stranded at second in third, wasted Cuddyer’s one-out triple in the fifth that Phillie right fielder Grady Sizemore lost in the sun and, perhaps most egregiously, left two on in the sixth when David Wright struck out to end the inning. Wright’s failure was most egregious only because, before the game, Collins had been talking about how effective Curtis Granderson, even with his miniscule batting average, had been in the leadoff spot because of his ability to draw walks and open up scoring opportunities ahead of Wright – which is what he’d just done with two out in the eighth.
But this was not a day to fret about the offense, or the uncertainty of Familia as a closer. Not when the Citi crowd had come out in record numbers in anticipation of seeing the fulfillment of all the spring hype about this 2015 Mets team, and not gone home disillusioned as they have so many times in recent years. Maybe that was the best thing of all about the whole afternoon. In a game in which an imperfect deGrom, the offense and the closer all had their struggles, the Mets still managed to make their fans feel like Opening Day had been perfect in every way.
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