…with the smile of a man whose team is in first place.
My worries of yesterday afternoon aside, I was not, in fact, bitter on Opening Night. And it wasn’t just the happy absence of Wainwright/Beltran footage, or the way the Mets played crisp, clean baseball while the World Champions did not. Though both those things helped, of course.
It was the way baseball settled itself into my life (and Emily’s) like an old friend, making itself and us comfortable. From Ball 1 delivered by Chris Carpenter to Jose Reyes, spring training and its frustrations were gone. This was baseball under the bright lights, with a seriousness of purpose that let you know immediately that you weren’t in Florida anymore. Even the annoyances were familiar: The 2007 season was exactly four pitches old when Joe Morgan was invited to make fun of stats. But whatever: In June such utterances will drive me to beat my fists on the couch, but on Opening Night they were comfortingly familiar.
Extrapolating the season from one game is, of course, ridiculous: Paul Lo Duca’s flirtation with 500 RBIs will lead us to a 162-0 campaign! But Glavine looked like Glavine (his location wasn’t great, but he knows how to work around that by now); I admired Joe Smith’s first-night guts if not his first-night results (he threw strikes, the rest will come); Beltran made a whale of a throw to erase David Eckstein; and Jose Valentin’s fist pump after he and Reyes bailed out Heilman, Smith and Pedro Feliciano had to be the picture of the evening.
Granted, it’s easier to look good when your opponent looks lousy: So Taguchi made two more bad plays than I’ve ever seen him make, including that pratfall on Delgado’s double that made him look like the Anti-Endy; Carpenter got the bunt down on a suicide-squeeze attempt but still managed to get Kennedy erased on the play (not so easy to do); and on the mound Carpenter was lousy and clearly knew it, squinting at YFM with the look of a man approaching a roundabout at the end of a four-hour drive with the tank on E and the kids screaming and hitting each other in the back. You knew it really wasn’t St. Louis’s night when Moises Alou, nicely described by the Sun’s Tim Marchand as having “the range of a box turtle,” made a tumbling grab. Still, I was horrified to see Alou out there in the ninth. Maybe for each batter we could rotate Endy and whatever bad corner outfielder is still in the game, the way Davey Johnson yo-yo’ed Orosco and McDowell between the mound and the outfield all those years ago in Cincinnati?
My one stab at bitterness came when Beltran came to the plate for the first time: After the first pitch from Carpenter, I yelled “that’s the second straight called strike he’s taken!” Emily told me to shut up, but I wasn’t remotely serious. I was already having too good a time.