There is no such thing as a bad Opening Day win. More to the point, there’s no such thing as an Opening Day win that’s “worse” than any other. I guess that’s all self-evident, but there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about winning on Opening Day. There are no also-rans. Every Opening Day win is, at the moment it is achieved, the best win of the year.
It can go downhill from there, but there’s no way we can imagine it getting better.
You’ve waited all winter for Opening Day. You’ve invested every bit of symbolism in it that you can. This day will validate you. It will validate your offseason. It will tell you that whatever happened last year, if it was bad, is erased. It will tell you whatever happened last year, if it was good, was prologue for more.
You can’t go wrong with an Opening Day win. They all make for the happiest of recaps, they are all dreams comes true, they are all perfection incarnate, they are all the damnedest things.
Opening Day needs no introduction. It is our introduction and reintroduction to baseball as our way of life. It tells us it’s here, it’s real and, if we win, it’s spectacular.
If we lose, there’s always tomorrow, but that’s another story, one we won’t delve into at this moment.
All Opening Day wins are all right. Thus, ranking them is folly. But we’ll do it here anyway. Instead of going chronologically, we’ll attempt to put them in perspective — and we’re going to be expansive in our definition of “Opening wins”.
Games the Mets won to start the season, whether home or away, are included here. So are games the Mets won to start their home season in those years when Opening Day occurred on the road. This inclusion acknowledges the significance of having back what Howie Rose annually refers to as “the National League season in New York”. When the Mets open anywhere, it means everything. Yet when the Mets play in front of us for the first time — even if they’ve been compiling standings for a week in other ballparks — it means something else.
It means we’re home again, whether at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium or Citi Field…where some 44,000 of us were planning to be on Thursday, March 26, but we’ve seen how plans sometimes go. With that in mind, we’re also including one Opening Day win that will appear totally out of time when you glance at the month it was played, but given that we don’t know in what month we’ll be opening 2020, it seems as organically sourced an Opening Day date as any listed below.
We have 54 wins to sort through here. We’ll rank them 54 to 1, with the caveat that nothing is the worst when you win on Opening Day. As the lawyer on TV likes to remind us, s’all good, man. Our rankings were determined by a blend of what’s massively memorable, what deserves to be remembered better, what stands up historically, what served as a harbinger of what was to come and what resonates emotionally. Plus anything else that felt right. Anybody’s who’s mainlined Joe Posnanski’s Baseball 100 from the Athletic straight into the veins should recognize that cheerfully ranking things we love is fun, while vociferously arguing over the ranking of things we love can quickly become a buzzkill. Honestly, in this case, the distance from 54 to 1 is shorter than the journey from home to first.
If you’re scoring at home — or even if you’re alone, which the CDC recommends strongly — (S/H) refers to Opening Day when the Mets season begins at home; (S) is Opening Day when the Mets season begins on the road; (H) is the Home Opener when the Mets have already played games elsewhere; and denotations of “1st” or “2nd” are exclusive to the split season of 1981.
Hope you have time to read all this. Ah, who are we kidding? Of course you have time…
54. APRIL 6, 1971 (S/H): NYM 4 MON 2 (5)
What’s wrong with a Tom Seaver complete game? Nothing at all, except rain, gales and being called after five innings. UN Ambassador George Bush threw out the first pitch and then beat it out of Shea. Read his lips: they were chattering. But a win is a win, no matter how short, even in most unideal conditions.
53. APRIL 28, 1995 (H): NYM 10 STL 8
Ah, the charms of a season starting late. In post-strike 1995 some diehard fans worked through their lingering resentment by showing up at the ballpark and literally throwing money at the National Pastime. It wasn’t just a matter of buying tickets for the odd-duck Friday night Home Opener (which only 26,604 did). A trio of fans stormed onto the field from the stands in the fourth inning wearing t-shirts that read not Mets, not Cardinals, but GREED. They further communicated their distaste for what they perceived as the baseball business’s prevailing ethic by tossing $150, a buck at a time, toward the players until they reached second base, where they raised their fists in protest to substantial applause. In the course of the evening, others trotted onto the playing surface, showing their displeasure with the millionaires and billionaires who shut down the sport for so long, in various mischievous, ultimately harmless ways. But it was the GREED guys who grabbed everybody’s attention. “We did it,” one of them said, “because we wanted people to know that they can’t just come back and have everything be OK.” Fittingly, Bobby Bonilla, the highest-paid of Mets, cashed in the most valuable performance of the evening, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. The most on-point commentary belonged to starting pitcher Bret Saberhagen. Had the fans thrown fifties rather than ones, Sabes said, “We might have picked them up.”
52. APRIL 12, 2004 (H): NYM 10 ATL 6
Though he was new in town, Mike Cameron made it his business to make Mets fans feel welcome. Prior to the Home Opener’s first pitch, the center fielder who had signed as a free agent sat atop the home dugout at Shea, faced the first base stands, and signed autographs for streams of fans. One inning into the game itself, he drove in the Mets’ first run of the season. They’d score ten (whacking ex-Met Mike Hampton in the process) and win by four, providing even those among the 53,666 who couldn’t get close to Cameron a cherished first-day souvenir.
51. APRIL 15, 1981 (H-1st): NYM 5 STL 3
In fiction, Tony Soprano led a party of four to this specific ballgame (“Kingman was just back from the Cubs”). In reality, ticketholders who couldn’t adjust as easily as the Mets and their legitimate-businessmen constituency did when the originally scheduled Home Opener was pushed back a day by rain missed a good one at Shea. With Mookie Wilson tripling in a pair from the leadoff position — and making an early case for Mookie of the Year consideration — the Mets took a four-zip lead in the second. Pat Zachry, Tom Hausman and Neil Allen (with a three-inning save) made the advantage stand up. Only 15,205 were in the house for the respective homecomings of Dave Kingman and Rusty Staub and the planting of the Home Run Apple. No doubt at least a few more had planned to join them, but not everybody can slot a precautionary off day into their schedules the way teams that play in April in the Northeast tend to do.
50. MARCH 29, 2018 (S/H): NYM 9 STL 4
Joy is Opening Day’s calling card, but sadness punctuates the pregame festivities as the news spreads that Rusty Staub has passed away. Soon enough the Mets would be wearing a black patch with Rusty’s signature emblazoned in orange. In the interim, they’d stencil his uniform number, 10, on the back of the Citi Field mound and play ball in Staub’s memory. The first game of Mickey Callaway’s regime proves grand, indeed, with Noah Syndergaard striking out ten Redbirds and Yoenis Cespedes driving in three Mets.
49. APRIL 3, 1989 (S/H): NYM 8 STL 4
The Mets alighted at Shea to defend their NL East crown with twenty-three 1988 Mets and just one offseason addition, journeyman righty Don Aase. Aase pitched a nice two innings in relief of Doc (7 IP, 5 H, 8 K), eliciting cheers of “AAH-SEE!” along the way, yet there couldn’t help but be an underlying sense that the roster that had made the Mets of the ’80s a powerhouse unparalleled in franchise history was maybe growing a wee bit stale. By October, there’d be turnover galore…and an abdication of the divisional throne.
48. APRIL 5, 1994 (S): NYM 12 CHI 8
Watching (or listening to) Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Todd Hundley tee off on Cub pitching was invigorating after the misery of 1993, but Doc Gooden giving up seven runs to the Cubs — three of them on three home runs to future Japanese league star Tuffy Rhodes — made a windy day at Wrigley uncomfortable in New York. Gooden’s frustration had him kicking a dugout step and breaking a toe, leading him to the DL, leading him back, by his reckoning, to cocaine. Oh, Doctor.
47. APRIL 12, 1977 (H): NYM 4 STL 0
It was a can of corn for every Mets manager from 1968 through 1977 to hand the ball to Tom Seaver to pitch the first game of the season. It was the luck of the rotation, however, that had Seaver — who had gotten ’77 off to a typically strong start in Chicago five days earlier — throwing the first pitch of the home season in what loomed as the most uncertain of Met times. Tom was embroiled in a dispute with the front office, but there was no disputing how suited Seaver was to pitching any kind of Opener. His five-hit shutout, accompanied by home runs from Johns Milner and Stearns, guaranteed the Mets a pair of strong impressions in a year where they’d create precious few of those.
46. APRIL 10, 1974 (H): NYM 3 STL 2
Mike Schmidt dampened the season Opener in Philadelphia when he launched a come-from-behind walkoff homer off Tug McGraw at the Vet. Rain pushed back the home version by a day, but once Shea dried off, the 1973 National League flag scurried up the pole and the Mets got back to making their acolytes Believers. That time-tested Jerry-rigged battery the Mets often depended upon hummed beautifully, as Jerry Grote drove in a pair and Jerry Koosman gave up one run over eight-and-a-third. Youngster Bob Apodaca came on in the ninth to retire Tim McCarver on a game-ending double play grounder. At 2-1, the Mets were over .500 for the first time since the end of last season…and, as it turned out, for the last time the rest of this season.
45. APRIL 10, 1980 (S/H): NYM 5 CHI 2
If a season opens in a forest and nobody sees it, did it happen? That’s a bit of an exaggeration to describe the lack of spectators at Shea Stadium on the first day of the Doubleday/Wilpon regime, but attendance was lighter than light, with only 12,219 paying for the privilege of sitting in Shea’s new plastic seats. It was less cynicism that the Magic was Back as advertised repelling potential ticketbuyers as it was difficulties getting to the game itself. A transit strike was on, so for many a trip to the ballpark was off…though Mets baseball figured to be a tough sell even when the trains were running (the 1979 Home Opener, albeit postponed a day by rain, drew a mere 10,406). What most everybody missed was Craig Swan going seven and singling in two runs himself, Neil Allen chipping in two perfect innings for the save and reacquired Jerry Morales — lost long ago in the 1968 expansion draft, collecting two ribbies as the starting center fielder. Maybe the Magic would be Back, but it was gonna need the 7 to get rolling soon.
44. APRIL 9, 1981 (S-1st): NYM 2 CHI 0
For the third consecutive year, the Mets opened their season versus the Cubs, and for the third consecutive year, they notched a victory at Chicago’s expense. Tradition! The Mets scored both of their runs on fourth-inning homers, one by Lee Mazzilli, a Met since 1976, the second by Rusty Staub, a Met originally in 1972 and back after a five-season hiatus in other uniforms. Pat Zachry drew his first Opening Day assignment, something the guy he was traded from Cincinnati for handled annually. Zachry was no Tom Seaver — not that this wasn’t common knowledge by 1981 — but he overcame four walks to keep the Cubs scoreless through five-and-two-thirds, setting the stage for one out from Tom Hausman and nine from Neil Allen.
43. APRIL 1, 2013 (S/H): NYM 11 SDP 2
It’s the Opening Day that follows Superstorm Sandy and the Sandy Hook shootings. The Metropolitan Area could use a lift in spirits after the grimmest of offseasons. Jon Niese does what he can. With Johan Santana sidelined and R.A. Dickey traded, Niese is designated ace and performs like it: 6.2 IP, 2 ER. The Met born the day the Mets won the World Series gets some championship-level support from a couple of understudies, as Collin Cowgill whacks a grand slam, while 31-year-old rookie Scott Rice tosses a scoreless ninth.
42. APRIL 12, 1999 (H): NYM 8 FLA 1
It was the fourth time in six years that the first pitch of the National League season in New York flew from the right hand of Bobby Jones. Given his familiarity with the festivities, it’s no wonder Jones felt comfortable enough to send one ball flying. The Mets’ starter launched the game’s only home run, off Livàn Hernandez, in the fifth, giving himself a 2-1 lead that his teammates would increase before the inning was out. The Bobbys were out in full force for this Home Opener. On the mound, Bobby Jones went seven innings and gave up only run. In the dugout, Bobby Valentine was raising the Mets’ record to 6-2. And at the center of a heartwarming story, Bronx native Bobby Bonilla received an affectionate welcome home for his second Met go-round from the 52,000-plus at Shea. Bobby Bo returned the love by recording three hits and scoring a pair of runs.
41. APRIL 7, 1977 (S): NYM 5 CHI 3
Tom Seaver starts for the Mets for the tenth consecutive Opening Day. The three-time Cy Young winner pitches seven strong innings. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever will be? Sigh. Someday, Seaver would pitch an eleventh Opening Day for the Mets. On Opening Day 1977 at Wrigley Field, that wouldn’t seem remarkable. By Opening Day 1978, it would seem inconceivable. What a difference June 15, 1977, made. But let’s stay in early April and consider just how inextricably tied is Seaver to opening Mets seasons. He is linked not just by showing up but by excelling. Take Tom’s eleven season-opening starts, plus the one time he pitched a Home Opener after the Mets began their year on the road. In those twelve appearances, when he never pitched fewer than five innings, Seaver’s ERA was 1.91. The Mets won nine times, with Seaver notching seven wins. He was no-decisioned five times, meaning Tom never incurred any kind of Opening Day loss as a Met. Four times he went unscored upon, and never gave up more than three runs in any of his dozen outings. He provided 1-0 records for Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Joe Frazier and George Bamberger. Every manager knew there was no better way to start a season than handing the ball to No. 41.
40. APRIL 5, 2010 (S/H): NYM 7 FLA 1
David Wright homers to right, indicating maybe Citi Field won’t be a hex on him in its sophomore season. Johan Santana goes six, indicating maybe he will make it through the year. Below the marquee, the identity of several of the participants raise eyebrows. Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews, Jr., are in the lineup after extended Met hiatuses; Alex Cora holds Jose Reyes’s place until the sparkplug shortstop’s recovery from injury is deemed complete; Long Island’s own Frank Catalanotto, entering his fourteenth season, pinch-hits; and Luis Castillo, who dropped a pop fly using one hand the previous June, is still the second baseman. Yet the Mets win easily. Maybe massively disappointing 2009 doesn’t have to be a leading indicator of future trends.
39. APRIL 1, 2002 (S/H): NYM 6 PIT 2
The offseason overhaul designed to return the Mets to the playoffs was on full display this Opening Day. Robbie Alomar, on a Hall of Fame path, was at second base. Mo Vaughn, after a year of inactivity, played first. Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeño returned from the Met past to constitute two-thirds of the outfield. Jeromy in left and Roger in right flanked Jay Payton, the center fielder who bashed the season’s first home run. Al Leiter, making his third season-opening start as a Met, kept the Bucs at bay for six innings. Armando Benitez finished the game mostly without incident. On this first post-9/11 Opening Day, Art Garfunkel offered a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “God Bless America”. The Mets were undefeated. God bless the 2002 Mets. God bless us all, everyone.
38. APRIL 9, 1976 (S/H), NYM 3 MON 2
Tom Seaver and Skip Lockwood scatter eight hits and strike out eleven Expos. Jerry Grote knocks in Del Unser in the second, Bud Harrelson doubles home both Unser and Grote in the fourth. Heretofore minor league lifer Joe Frazier — eight different affiliates over ten seasons for a trio of organizations — has never before managed in the majors, yet as of this day, with his players performing to his specifications, there is no denying that Joe Frazier is as perfect a Mets manager as has ever been.
37. APRIL 13, 2015 (H): NYM 2 PHI 0
When the Mets dropped their fifth game of the season to lower their record to 2-3, it’s unlikely anybody realized it was the 22nd time in club history that the Mets had gotten off to exactly such a start. Yet when the 2015 Mets won their sixth game and evened their mark en route to their Home Opener, the collective memory recalled the 1986 Mets were once upon a time 2-3 before getting very serious about dominating their division. Those Mets turned 2-3 to 3-3, then 13-3, and eventually everything. These Mets not quite thirty years later entered their season with humbler expectations, but any harbinger was a good harbinger, and after Jacob deGrom and three relievers combined to shut out the Phillies, it couldn’t help but be noted by wishful thinkers throughout Metsopotamia that at 4-3, the 2015 Mets were tracing their 1986 forebears’ journey to a tee. (And, lo and behold, nine games later, the 2015 Mets were 13-3.)
36. APRIL 17, 1968 (H): NYM 3 SFG 0
Prior to 1968, the Mets had not only never won on Opening Day, they’d never even won their Home Opener in seasons when they’d started their season on the road. Gil Hodges came along and at least one of those situations changed immediately. Following a 2-3 road trip that wound down with a 24-inning 1-0 loss inside the suffocating offensive confines of Astrodome, the Mets began revising their first-chapter history ASAP, shutting out the ever-dangerous Giants at Shea in front of more than 52,000 fans. Six years of getting off on the wrong foot home and/or away will stoke a lot of appetites for a taste of success. There was no better chef to cook up this morsel than Jerry Koosman, who had shut down the Dodgers in L.A. the week before. After two starts, the rookie lefty who hadn’t much impressed across nine 1967 appearances had logged eighteen innings and an ERA of 0.00. In fact, after six games, Mets pitchers had given up all of six earned runs. It was shaping up as a great year to be a pitcher and, for once, maybe, not a bad year to be the Mets.
35. APRIL 12, 1988 (H): NYM 3 MON 0
The twentieth anniversary of The Year of the Pitcher was observed with nine innings of silence from Expo bats, all of them induced by Ron Darling, whose five-hit shutout at the outset of the home schedule started a trend that looked familiar to anybody who remembered how Jerry Koosman got 1968 at Shea off to a similarly quiet start. Bobby Ojeda followed Darling by tossing another shutout versus Montreal the next day, and Doc Gooden blanked the Cardinals for a rain-shortened shutout the day after that. During the Home Opener itself, Darryl Strawberry respectfully interrupted the meditative mood by blasting his fourth homer of the young season in the fourth. Howard Johnson drove in a couple of runs himself, suggesting that for the multitalented Mets, 1988 would be a year of hitters as well as pitchers.
34. APRIL 6, 2004 (S): NYM 7 ATL 2
Starting in right field for the visiting New York Mets was Karim Garcia. Had a lefthander been pitching for the Braves, the right fielder would have been Shane Spencer. Had the winter lived up to Mets fans’ fondest hopes, however, Vladimir Guerrero would have been out there regardless of pitcher. Guerrero was a free agent who dwelled on the market a surprisingly long time and the Mets were seen as having a genuine chance to swoop in and grab the all-world Expo. Instead, Vlad signed with the Angels and the Mets made do with a couple of Plan B types. With fondest hopes dashed, there was no particular hope for the Mets when the season began, yet when hyped leadoff man Kaz Matsui — signed from Japan and installed at shortstop despite the presence of promising Jose Reyes (who, in turn, hurt his hamstrings before he could acclimate to second base) — homered on the very first pitch he saw in North America…well, there was still no particular hope for the 2004 Mets, but it never hurts to jump out to a quick lead.
33. APRIL 6, 1973 (S/H): NYM 3 PHI 0
POWs released from North Vietnam throw out the ceremonial first pitches. Cleon Jones blasts the first two home runs off Steve Carlton. Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw deliver combined five-hit peace with honor.
32. APRIL 1, 2007 (S): NYM 6 STL 1
Nope, it wasn’t Game Eight. The 2006 National League Championship Series wasn’t tied at four apiece. Nothing could be done about the set of games that motivated ESPN to insist the Cardinals host the Mets on a Sunday night in what they could bill as a pennant rematch. The pennant match was all that mattered in terms of the year before. That one belonged to St. Louis, as did the spoils of victory, which the Redbirds didn’t at all mind showing off at Busch Stadium (they wore gold-trimmed uniforms, for cryin’ out loud). All the Mets could do was get 2007 off to a better start, and they did so by taking it to the home team on national cable television. “Take that, defending world champion creeps,” it was collectively muttered through clenched teeth back east. The Mets were 1-0. The Cardinals were 0-1. That they were respectively 3-4 and 4-3 the last time they came together was immaterial. The result from 2006 wouldn’t be forgotten, but we were reminded that new years can’t be pestered into perpetuity by their predecessors. They are, after all, new.
31. APRIL 3, 2000 (H): NYM 2 SDP 1
Technically, the 2000 Mets had already played a home game before taking the field at Shea Stadium for the first time in the new century. They and the Cubs split a series in Tokyo, March 29-30, with the Mets serving as home team in the season Opener, and Chicago batting last the next day. But everybody in New York who rose at 5:00 AM to witness international baseball history understood a neutral site when they saw it. Somewhat caught up on sleep, 52,308 filed into Shea to partake of the great American tradition of a Home Opener actually played at home. Al Leiter, who stayed behind during the Mets’ trip to Japan in order to remain fresh, threw eight five-hit innings that ensured a bright-eyed afternoon in Flushing. Two imports (from other teams, that is) gave Al the two runs he needed for the win: new first baseman Todd Zeile, with a sac fly, and new right fielder Derek Bell, with a solo homer off Donne Wall.
30. APRIL 15, 1972 (S/H): NYM 4 PIT 0
What could the Mets do but play on? There had been a strike to lop six games off the front end of the schedule, but the dispute was settled and it was time to go to work. For twenty-three other teams, it was some semblance of business as usual. For the Mets, though, it couldn’t help but be the saddest of Opening Days because we weren’t two weeks removed from the death of Gil Hodges. Gil suffered a fatal heart attack in Florida on April 2, just as the players were walking off the job. Turmoil crossed paths with mourning. On April 6, the day Hodges was buried in Brooklyn, the Mets announced Yogi Berra will succeed perhaps the most revered figure New York sports had ever known and, oh by the way, they traded Mike Jorgensen, Tim Foli and Ken Singleton for Rusty Staub. The strike would be settled a week later and, two days after that, it was play ball. “I don’t feel he’s gone, in a sense,” Bud Harrelson admitted. The Mets declared Hodges’s No. 14 would be retired (the ceremony came the following year) and trimmed their jerseys with a black armband. The rest was, indeed, playing ball. Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw pitched a shutout.. Ed Kranepool drove in three runs. Berra, in a job he never sought, had a win. Life and baseball were going on.
29. MARCH 28, 2019 (S): NYM 2 WAS 0
The most intriguing figure introduced at Nationals Park might have been a player already recognized by his nickname before taking part in a single major league baseball game. But when you’re known as the Polar Bear, word gets around. Pete Alonso’s presence was a victory in itself, given ballclubs’ tendency to hold back promising rookies in the name of preserving service time, but this Bear was there in the lineup, alongside the most recent National League Cy Young awardee, Jacob deGrom, who had managed to win pitching’s premiere piece of hardware before ever receiving the honor of pitching on Opening Day. DeGrom picked up where his 1.70 earned run average from 2018 left off, shutting out the Nats for six innings. The Mets notched two runs off Cyworthy opponent Max Scherzer, though they’d need only the first one, which was delivered in the first inning by highly decorated acquisition Robinson Cano. The last out was nailed down by Edwin Diaz, the ballyhooed closer who accompanied Cano from Seattle in the Met winter’s noisiest transaction. The big picture conceived by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen — one that featured elevating Alonso (1-for-4), locking down deGrom (he’d just signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract) and giving up top prospect Jared Kelenic to secure Cano and Diaz — was going exactly according to plan.
28. MARCH 31, 2008 (S): NYM 7 FLA 2
Six months earlier, the Mets’ season ended bitterly and, by the reckoning of everybody filling Shea Stadium that final afternoon of 2007, prematurely despite the presence of a two-time Cy Young-winning lefty on the mound for the home team. That southpaw, T#m Gl@v!ne, went figuratively south at the worst possible juncture and then literally south during the offseason, back where he came from, to Atlanta. He wasn’t missed in the slightest, but the Mets needed a replacement. They pursued one in the form of another two-time Cy Young-winning lefty. He wasn’t easily gotten, but he did get got. Thus, six months later, south of Shea, and south of Atlanta, stood Johan Santana in a Mets uniform on the mound for the visitors at what was then called Dolphins Stadium. Once you absorbed that stunning image, honestly, everything else was details.
27. APRIL 8, 1982 (S): NYM 7 PHI 2
The Mets had the 1977 MVP in left and the 1976 Cy Young winner on the mound. Was this any way to start 1982? As a matter of fact, it was. After withstanding a winter storm-impelled postponement of a couple of days, the snow was cleared from the Veterans Stadium carpet, and the Mets’ old guns took aim at a brighter future. Randy Jones lasted six innings, giving up one run. George Foster doubled home Bob Bailor in his first at-bat. The ice age that had defined the Mets for the previous five seasons was showing signs of melting.
26. APRIL 3, 2017 (S/H): NYM 6 ATL 0
Coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, the Mets do what they’ve been doing for the better part of two years. They win. To do so, they have to overcome the potentially karmic presence of former fan favorites Anthony Recker, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon in the visitors’ dugout (all draw cheers when introduced, especially Bart) and, more dauntingly, the six shutout innings thrown by perennial nemesis Julio Teheran. But they have Noah Syndergaard going six scoreless and, come the seventh, they tear apart another erstwhile Met, Eric O’Flaherty (who received no discernible pregame applause but we sure love that he ended Day One with an ERA of 54.00). The most favored hometown hero of the age, Wilmer Flores, has quite a game practically all at once, entering as a pinch-hitter for Hansel Robles in the seventh with the score nothing-nothing and René Rivera on first; replacing Rivera as a baserunner on a fielder’s choice grounder; stealing second while Jose Reyes bats, despite being the polar opposite of Reyes speedwise; getting called out at home on Asdrubal Cabrera’s single to center after Reyes walks; being called safe at home when Terry Collins’s replay challenge yields the desired reversal; eventually batting a second time in the inning he pinch-hit for the pitcher, making him the eight de facto designated hitter in Mets history; and, with the score six-nothing, producing the third out of the seventh on his second consecutive ground ball.
25. APRIL 8, 1991 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 1
Dwight Gooden strikes out seven Phillies in eight innings. Hubie Brooks, in his encore year, takes home on the front end of a double steal. It’s 89 degrees on April 8. What would be the point of the Mets losing when nature greets them so warmly?
24. APRIL 6, 2009 (S): NYM 2 CIN 1
Eager to erase the emotions attached to losing the last-ever game at Shea Stadium, the 2009 Mets traveled to Cincinnati one week before inaugurating Citi Field and did their best to usher in a new era. Daniel Murphy, the starting left fielder, homered and drove in another run besides. The bullpen’s back end of Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez was not only new but legitimately improved; they combined on three-and-third scoreless innings behind Johan Santana. Next year had indeed arrived. On Day One, it’s all anyone can ask for.
23. APRIL 11, 2005 (H): NYM 8 HOU 4
Not pitching in the 2005 Home Opener didn’t prevent Pedro Martinez from emerging as the star of the show. The season was already all about Pedro, a surefire Hall of Famer bringing his star with him from Boston. He’d been masterful on Opening Day in Cincinnati before Braden Looper blew his lead. He’d halted his team’s vexing five-game losing streak by outdueling John Smoltz in Atlanta. He brushed off talk that he oughta be at Fenway for the raising of the 2004 World Series flag he’d helped earn them after 86 years of waiting. Martinez had changed the collective outlook of Mets fans from morose to ecstatic. No wonder, then, that when an electronic malfunction on an advertisement in dead center messed with the batter’s eye ahead of the sixth inning, it was Pedro’s face that beamed from the billboard…and it was Pedro who came out of the dugout to offer a little dance for the fans’ amusement. Of course they cheered. His participation on a day when he didn’t play only added to the zestful atmosphere. “I was just having fun with the moment,” Pedro said, who could have just as easily been describing his impact on the campaign’s early days. Incidentally, the Mets scored five in the eighth to come from behind for a rousing victory.
22. APRIL 6, 2015 (S): NYM 3 WAS 1
Bartolo Colon, eventually the last ex-Expo extant, takes on the ex-Expos in the capital of the nation directly south of Canada and turns back the clock as only he could — like clockwork. The 41-year-old pitches like another 41 tended to on Opening Day, scattering three hits and allowing but one run over six innings. Max Scherzer, who Bryce Harper believes will win him a ring, is effective but not so lucky, giving up three unearned runs to the Mets over seven-and-two-thirds. The one that puts the Mets ahead to stay is brought home by David Wright, playing in his eleventh consecutive Opener, tying Buddy Harrelson’s franchise record. The final out is recorded by Buddy Carlyle, 37, who first pitched in the majors in 1999 but had never participated in a season’s first game until now.
21. APRIL 9, 2007 (H): NYM 11 PHI 5
Gametime temperature was 44 degrees, yet the anticipation was hot not to mention heavy among the 56,227 who crammed Shea to push the Mets a couple of steps beyond where they’d landed the previous October, when their journey to a world championship ended in the seventh game of the NLCS. Their assumed ascension was rudely interrupted by Ryan Howard’s three-run bomb off Ambiorix Burgos in the top of the sixth, but a seven-run explosion in the home eighth — facilitated by a graciously received Jimmy Rollins error — reassured the throng that 2007’s championship script would be followed thoroughly.
20. APRIL 8, 1986 (S): NYM 4 PIT 2
Dwight Gooden was almost untouchable in 1985. It was perfectly reasonable to project a deletion of the word “almost” from the vocabulary applied to the good Doctor as he entered 1986. Instead, he gave up a leadoff homer to R.J. Reynolds in the bottom of the first at Three Rivers Stadium. Perhaps 1986 wouldn’t go as smoothly as 1985 had for Dr. K. Still, it’s worth noting, the Mets had already staked Gooden to a 2-0 lead by the time he faced his first batter and, when Opening Night in Pittsburgh was said and done, the man completed a six-hit victory. Perhaps 1986 would go more smoothly than 1985 for the Mets overall.
19. APRIL 5, 2012 (S/H): NYM 1 ATL 0
“KID 8” goes up on the left field wall alongside the Mets’ 50th anniversary logo to commemorate the February passing of Gary Carter. In another sign of the times, Johan Santana returns from a year of Tommy John rehab to go five scoreless. Speaking of 5, David Wright drives in the first run of the season and only run of the game in the sixth. New closer Frank Francisco makes it hold up under a chilly sun.
18. APRIL 7, 1978 (S/H): NYM 3 MON 1
As of 1978, the last time Tom Seaver didn’t start on Opening Day for the New York Mets, Don Cardwell did. Also as of 1978, Don Cardwell was retired from baseball for more than seven years. Yes, in 1978, the Mets would have to find somebody to do something they’d continuously relied on one man to do for a decade worth of Opening Days. Good thing they didn’t have to look far. Jerry Koosman, 35 years old, had been the quintessential No. 2 starter for the Mets throughout Seaver’s tenure as Met ace. Kooz had been bumped up to ace the previous June by default, but perhaps it didn’t fully sink into the Mets fan psyche until Opening Day 1978 that the role was all his because now, for the first time in a career that stretched back to 1967, he was starting on Opening Day. How would Jerry Koosman handle the one undeniable task that comes with being ace for a team that doesn’t have a pennant race or a playoff game in its immediate future? He handled it like an ace, which is to say he handled it like Seaver, throwing a complete game eight-hitter and lifting the Mets to a 1-0 record. This kid from Minnesota? He might just make it after all.
17. APRIL 3, 2001 (S): NYM 6 ATL 4 (10)
Was there a nicer Met than Robin Ventura? Was there more poetic justice than Robin roughing up that schmuck John Rocker with a lefty-on-lefty crime on Opening Night at Turner Field, taking him deep for a go-ahead homer in the eighth? And when the pen couldn’t hold it, how about that same nice Met Robin Ventura lashing another homer, this one off Kerry Ligtenberg? Two Braves closers, yet neither could shut a damn thing. Mets win in ten. As importantly, Braves lose in ten.
16. APRIL 8, 2016 (H): NYM 7 PHI 2
Was sending the Mets on the road to begin a pennant-defending campaign any way to treat a league champion? On the road to an American League ballpark? To Kansas City to bear witness to the team that defeated them in the previous World Series congratulating itself? Not only was this some bizarre scheduling (the Mets had never before opened in an Interleague affair), it was just lousy logistics. ESPN wanted the Mets at Royals for its Sunday night lidlifter. Then there was an off day. Then there was the second game of the season. Then there were two off days. Can’t anybody here plan these games? Finally, after a week with barely any baseball, came a sense of normalcy blended with a touch of the extraordinary. Up on the right field terrace, three National League champions of yore — Rusty Staub, John Franco and Edgardo Alfonzo, added the 2015 flag to the pole already sporting the 1973 and 2000 models. Then the 2016 Mets endeavored to embellish the occasion, hanging seven runs in support of Jacob deGrom’s six effective innings. Those looked pretty good flapping in the wind, too.
15. APRIL 3, 2006 (S/H): NYM 3 WAS 2
Live from New York, it’s SNY! The cable network that took fledgling flight a few weeks earlier was now on the air for real, broadcasting its first game that counted to a cable- and satellite-subscribing public yearning for the Mets to become unmissable prime time programming. Technical glitches aside, SportsNet New York delivered to its audience two unmatchable assets: a booth consisting of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, and a team demonstrating it was poised to be must-see TV. New right fielder Xavier Nady enjoyed the strongest debut of all, going 4-for-4, but the key daytime drama for viewers came in the top of the eighth with the visiting Nats at bat and trailing by one. After singling versus Aaron Heilman to lead off the inning, Alfonso Soriano raced from first on Ryan Zimmerman’s double to left. Cliff Floyd chased the ball down and fired it to Jose Reyes. Reyes relayed it strongly to Paul Lo Duca. Soriano was still racing. In addition to replacing Mike Piazza, PLD was now charged with making the defensive play that would preserve the lead better than Heilman had. That goal he achieved instantly, putting down a tag on Soriano, according to first base umpire Tim Tschida, who ran over to make the call that could be argued yet not effectively disproven. SNY’s cameras revealed Lo Duca didn’t necessarily maintain control of the ball, but as the new Met catcher put it later, “Just show it and sell it.” That’s exactly what Lo Duca did. He grabbed the ball after dropping it, waved it at Tschida, and that served as proof enough eight years before managers could demand video replay challenges.
14. APRIL 13, 1982 (H): NYM 5 PHI 1
Mets fans had to see for themselves the two gaudiest upgrades any winter had ever brought to Shea: George Foster and DiamondVision. Both had immeasurably spruced up left field. Foster was an RBI champ of the first degree. DiamondVision was the big screen where George’s myriad big hits could be replayed to continual applause. That was the idea, anyway. Their mutual debut went well enough. With more than 40,000 in attendance —the most for a Home Opener since the World Championship flag rose in 1970 — Randy Jones replicated his solid outing from the season Opener in Philadelphia, while Dave Kingman added depth of the most crowdpleasing kind, belting a three-run homer off Steve Carlton in the fifth inning. Foster (1-for-3 with a walk) scored in front of him and video was readily available for mass consumption.
13. APRIL 9, 2001 (H): NYM 9 ATL 4
Out beyond the center field wall, Shea sported a new feature: a flagpole set able to accommodate multiple World Series and National League pennants. How convenient, considering the Mets had a brand new one to add to their collection. Joining the fabric from 1969, 1973 and 1986 (which were usually kept in storage) was the 2000 flag, captured the previous October. Raised with great ceremony by two Met legends — Mr. Met and Ralph Kiner — the 2001 Mets commenced their attempt to defend their championship quite successfully. Mike Piazza homered twice. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, whose orange hair and wristbands were hard to miss, homered in his New York debut. Kevin Appier notched his first Met win and the Mets’ record of 3-4 was, at the very least, a half-game better than that of the rival Braves. Was it too much to think they’d need more room on that flagpole soon?
12. APRIL 7, 1987 (S/H): NYM 3 PIT 2
The Mets’ most consistent starting pitcher from 1986 was on the mound and throwing seven sturdy innings, yet you couldn’t escape the sensation that something was off. Bobby Ojeda had definitely earned an Opening Day assignment, but he shouldn’t have received this one. This was Doc Gooden’s stage. But Doc missed his mark in 1987. He was appearing off camera, in a drug rehabilitation facility. Ojeda did his part, but the star turn fell to Dwight’s comrade in arms, Darryl Strawberry. Make that legs. Straw donned the Doctor’s uniform pants (his way of walking a mile in his friend’s shoes) and ripped a three-run, first-inning homer that reminded one and all how mighty the Mets had been the year before and how awesome they projected to be this year. The World Series rings and the World Champions banner did that, too. It was festive, all right. It just wasn’t precisely what it was intended to be.
11. APRIL 4, 1988 (S): NYM 10 MON 6
The Mets had never opened in Montreal before, so it was fitting, perhaps, that they learned a new phrase while playing in the province of Quebec. We all learned it, actually: tension ring. Use it in a sentence. “Darryl Strawberry’s home run at Olympic Stadium traveled so far, it struck the tension ring just below the roof in right field.” Which home run? He hit two. The blast in question, which soared an estimated 525 feet (or 160 meters), was the one Darryl let loose on Canada in the seventh. It was but one of six Met home runs on the day. Kevin McReynolds accounted for two, Kevin Elster and Lenny Dykstra one apiece. At the time, it made for a math as well as language lesson, as the Mets had never before hit that many homers in one game. The things a person can learn on Opening Day.
10. APRIL 7, 1970 (S): NYM 5 PIT 3 (11)
Once upon a time, the Mets were so bad that they couldn’t wait to start losing, so they’d lose the first chance they got. They lost that way in their first year and their second year and so on, clear through to their eighth year. Their eighth year, 1969, would be different from all the years before it — it would be different from just about every year anybody had ever experienced — but the start was the same. The Mets lost at the beginning. They lost at Shea to the Montreal Expos, a team that hadn’t even existed until that very Opening Day. Come the ninth year, it was time to eschew the last of their chronic losing. It took eleven innings. It took a world championship in their back pocket. It took Donn Clendenon’s bases-loaded single, but it finally took. In 1970, the Mets were Opening Day winners for the first time. Five decades later, with the Mets virtually synonymous with Opening Day triumph, it’s almost incomprehensible that winning right out of the gate was once the Met exception and not the blessed rule.
9. APRIL 5, 1979 (S): NYM 10 CHI 6
You have to squint really hard at the end of this one. The Mets, led by an itinerant character named Richie Hebner, have built a lavish lead of 10 to 3. It’s another feelgood Mets Opening Day win in the making at Wrigley Field. The Mets have won seven of their last eight season Openers. This rich history is about to be enhanced by Hebner’s 4-for-5, even if he doesn’t at all wish to be a Met. A rookie named Kelvin Chapman (we’re sure who he is because for the first time the Mets have added names to the backs of their players’ jerseys) records his initial career hits. Everybody in Metland is happy, give or take Hebner. Except the Mets, being the Mets of this era, are in the process of giving away a seven-run lead in the ninth inning. It gets to be 10-4, then it gets to be 10-6, and the Cubs are bringing up their best hitter. To keep the day from unraveling further, manager Joe Torre goes to someone even more unknown than Kelvin Chapman, a lefthanded rookie pitcher who wasn’t expected to make the club. And this is where we squint, because the Cubs hitter is Bill Buckner and the Mets pitcher is Jesse Orosco, and from the vantage point of the distant future, we’re sure we’ve seen them in another setting, playing key roles in determining the outcome of something even bigger than Opening Day. In the present of 1979, however, it’s clear what’s going on: 21-year-old Orosco — so new to the Mets he doesn’t get a uniform with his name emblazoned on its back (or his assigned number; he wears 61 for just this one day) — gets a fly ball out of Buckner. The Mets win the game and the present is secured. As for the future as we will come to know it, the one that involves Buckner, Orosco and bigger things…well, it will just have to wait for now.
8. APRIL 6, 1992 (S): NYM 6 STL 4 (10)
“At this pace” is the currency of first games, so let’s go with the exchange rate that serves as every season Opener’s coin of the realm. At this pace, the Mets will go 162-0. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will hit 324 home runs. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will be a hero every day and night of 1992. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will be the most beloved New York Met ever. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla will rescue the Mets from a tie game in one tenth inning after another. At this pace, Bobby Bonilla’s free agent contract will go down as the greatest bargain in franchise history. At this pace, it’s best to take them one game at a time. But still, for one Opening Night in St. Louis, Bobby Bonilla of the New York Mets set quite a pace.
7. APRIL 5, 1993 (S/H): NYM 3 COL 0
It fell upon the Mets to shepherd two opponents into full National League being. The first was in 1969, the Montreal Expos. The Expos did not cooperate to the Mets’ liking. They planted their flag at Shea Stadium and — sacre bleu! — outslugged Les Mets, 11-10. Twenty-four years later, the Mets were shepherds with a greater sense of self-interest. The Colorado Rockies were born in the Mets’ midst and the Mets made sure they came into this world kicking and screaming but not winning. The Doctor spanked the new baby just to make sure everything was working correctly. The infant Rockies were too little to touch Dr. K the brisk April afternoon of their birth. Ol’ Doc Gooden went the distance on a four-hitter. Three other star players of impeccable credentials — Tony Fernandez, Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla — each drove in a run. The Rockies learned their lesson to not mess with the big, bad Mets just yet. So it was a great day for the home fans at Shea to watch a new team take shape and lose to a fully established enterprise. Of course the best was yet to come after Opening Day 1969, whereas in 1993, the best was first to go. Ah, you can never tell what you might pick up from playing with a newborn.
6. AUGUST 10, 1981 (S-2nd): NYM 7 CHI 5 (13)
Reset! Just like that, the Mets were 0-0 again. It took a 50-day strike and a Solomonic settlement with more than a dash of Rube Goldberg in its execution, but it worked to the Metsies’ advantage, so kiss your asterisk goodbye. The Mets stopped being 17-34 when baseball resumed in 1981. They crawled through a river of labor unrest and came out clean on the other side. It was a new season come August 10, and a new season can only commence with an Opening Day. And this Opening Day at Wrigley was as delightfully dizzying as any the Mets have played. Mookie scores on a balk. Buckner ties it on a homer. We go to an eleventh inning, and it’s the Revenge of Kong as ex-Cub Dave Kingman clubs a three-run homer for his formerly old team against his recently old team. And now all that has to happen is Neil Allen preserving a three-run lead. But he can’t do it. Maybe Ray Searage can…no, he can’t. On comes Dyar Miller (Dyar Miller’s still active in 1981?) and off goes Bobby Bonds with a game-tying double (Bobby Bonds is still active in 1981?). In the twelfth, Mike Jorgensen singles home Hubie Brooks, but Miller can’t stand that strand of prosperity, either. So it’s 5-5 in the thirteenth. Lynn McGlothlen (Lynn McGlothlen’s…yes, yes, he, too, is still active in 1981) gives up a pair of runs. As it’s all hands on deck, Joe Torre calls on ambidextrous Greg Harris to slam the door. He needs both hands after allowing runners on first and third, but ultimately, Ken Reitz flies out to Mookie and, kooky as it sounds in the second week of August, the Mets are 1-0 and all alone in first place.
5. MARCH 31, 1998 (S/H): NYM 1 PHI 0 (14)
First, it’s fun. Natch, it’s fun. It’s Opening Day. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s impossibly beautiful weather. It’s actually hot — it’s March 31 yet it’s nearly 90 degrees in Queens. What fun! Fine pitching on both sides, Bobby Jones for the Mets, Curt Schilling for the Phillies. It’s fun to watch them breeze through hitter after hitter. More fun to watch Jones do it, but game recognizes game. Jones leaves after six. The Mets’ bullpen maintains their side of the shutout. Schilling just keeps cruising…through six, through seven, through eight. It’s 0-0 in the ninth. And now it’s the tenth, and while baseball is still fun and Opening Day is still a holiday, it’s less about buoyancy and warmth and more about shadows and uneasiness. Is anybody gonna score? More specifically, are the Mets are ever going to score? Are they going to score before the Phillies will? After more than four hours and more than thirteen innings, it’s less fun than unbearable. The good kind of “it’s not winter anymore” unbearable, but not as pleasant as a win would be. We’ve sat here too long to go home with anything less. So we go to fourteen. Turk Wendell, Bobby Valentine’s sixth pitcher of the day, has escaped damage in the top of the inning. Ricky Bottalico, on since the twelfth, stays in for the welcome-overstaying visitors. Matt Franco and Brian McRae turn into baserunners. Bernard Gilkey joins them. Two outs are made. It’s all up to the Mets’ last position player, Alberto Castillo, to pinch-hit. Castillo’s the backup catcher to Tim Spehr, the backup catcher to Todd Hundley, who’s out till July. Tell Castillo to get this day done lest he and/or Spehr go down hard. They call Castillo “Bambi,” as in short for Bambino. It’s an ironic nickname. There’s a reason Alberto Castillo can’t beat out Tim Spehr for the temporary starting job and it probably has something to do with his batting .203 the year before. But that was the year before. This is the year we’ve got now and in it, Alberto “Bambi” Castillo produces a ground ball that finds the narrowest of pathways between first and second, and that sends McRae comes dashing home. The Mets win. 1-0. in 14. It’s not so warm anymore. But it will always be remembered as a ton of fun.
4. APRIL 1, 1996 (S/H): NYM 7 STL 6
If expectations aren’t as sky-high as they were one decade earlier, they reach at least Mezzanine levels after the way the Mets surged to finished 1995 and cultivated young arms in St. Lucie. There’s no Bill Pulsipher in the house (injured) but Jason Isringhausen is back for his sophomore season and Paul Wilson has made the roster as a rookie. Yet before we can move onto Generation K, we have to endure what has become of the Lost Generation, a.k.a. Bobby Jones. Jones has looked pretty good since coming up to the Mets in 1993, but it isn’t working out today. The Cardinals rock his world. The Mets are behind 6-0, it’s spitting rain, it’s close to freezing and the figurative tomorrow of Izzy and Paul will have to wait until literally the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, we can distract ourselves with a home run from incumbent catcher Todd Hundley (6-2) and another from newcomer Bernard Gilkey (6-3). It’s doesn’t feel like a close game, but thankfully it doesn’t slip any further away in the top of the seventh when Royce Clayton attempts to score from second on Ray Lankford’s double to left. He should score. He ought to score. He’s absolutely going to score, except the rookie at short, Rey Ordoñez, takes Gilkey’s relay and — while on his frigging knees — fires to Hundley. Hundley tags Clayton out! OUT! Gray skies are gonna clear up, maybe. The bottom of the seventh thus yields the only available logical sequence of events: pinch-RBI from Chris Jones; infield RBI single by Lance Johnson; a Gilkey RBI to right; and a Rico Brogna sac fly. Huh? The Mets are winning 7-6? Bobby Jones is off the hook? The Mets are off the mat? Off their (if not Ordoñez’s) knees? The Mets are WINNING? So they are and so they do. And Isringhausen and Wilson are going later this week.
3. APRIL 8, 1975 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 1
Besides it existing, what do we want out of Opening Day? As a rule, let’s say. We want the new guys to justify our excitement over coming to us and the old guys to justify our continuing allegiance to them. We want all these parts to mesh perfectly, like they’ve been a team forever, not just since camp. We want to be as certain as we can be that what we imagined as winter turned to spring is gonna function. We want our revamped lineup — Clines in left! Unser in center! Kingman in right! Torre at third! — to look as good on the field as it did on paper. And we want our ace on the hill and in control. Tom Seaver pitched more poorly than he ever had in 1974. Something about his hip, they said. He was our ace anyway, and he was on the hill. We needed him, desperately, to make like he was its king. Oh, Tom Seaver ruled, all right. He became the first Met to ever throw a nine-inning complete game on a season’s Opening Day: four hits, only one that drove in a run. Meanwhile, Dave Kingman, that power hitter we picked up from San Francisco (playing right in place of the aching Rusty Staub), made our close acquaintance just as we would have asked, with a home run that tied things up in the fourth. Seaver kept pitching and kept registering outs, nine via the K. Steve Carlton was his opponent and he kept pitching and pitching well, too. We headed to the bottom the ninth still wanting a little something more. One of our mainstays, Felix Millan, singled. Another of them, John Milner, walked. Finally, one of the arrivals, Torre — the Brooklyn boy long rumored to be coming to the Mets — singled. It was the Mets’ first hit with a runner in scoring position all day. It was the only one that was necessary. We got just enough of everything we wanted on Opening Day 1975.
2. APRIL 5, 1983 (S/H): NYM 2 PHI 0
If Opening Day had a crest, it would be a 4 and a 1 set against a silhouette of a perfect pitching form atop a perfect pitcher’s mound. The mound would be perfect because the perfect pitcher made everything better. On April 5, 1983, Tom Seaver, still bearing the form that used to make every season worth looking forward to that much more, reappeared on the Shea Stadium mound. In No. 41. In home whites. It was the first time in six years. It wasn’t just the appearing on the mound that was Terrific, though. It was the long walk to get there, first from all those years when we had never seen him be anything but a Met (and when he was our Opening Day starter ten years in a row); then from Cincinnati (where he charitably brought his genius to total strangers, as if doing missionary work for greatness-deprived Midwesterners); then, finally, from the right field bullpen, where he loosened up to resume his legend where it belonged. Reaching the mound was a must, but the walk itself proved pretty memorable. The crowd heard he was “Number 41,” but couldn’t catch his name because they roared like a flight rising from the runways of LaGuardia. They didn’t need to catch his name. The only catching that needed to be done was by Ron Hodges, who caught Seaver in 1983 just as he had done as Met backup in the heart of the 1970s. The public address announcer never mentioned Tom’s name, come to think of it. Once “41” was uttered, 46,000 figured out the rest. The rest? After his return to mound was fully witnessed, the rest could have been an anticlimax, but that wouldn’t have been the Seaver way. The ace of aces struck out Pete Rose to begin things and proceeded to go six scoreless, leaving only when he felt a leg stiffening. The run that broke the 0-0 tie he bequeathed to Doug Sisk scored in the seventh. It came off ubiquitous Opening Day opponent Steve Carlton and was driven in by Mike Howard, who would never play for the Mets again after the first game of 1983. Howard became a footnote to Franchise lore for timing his lone RBI of the season so perfectly. Perfection was surely in the air that day.
1. APRIL 9, 1985 (S/H): NYM 6 STL 5 (10)
A rather famous baseball player came along in the 1980s and declared an intention to announce his presence with authority. His name was Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, hard-throwing righty phenom for the purely cinematic version of the Durham Bulls. Nuke, however, wasn’t saying anything that hadn’t already been said a few years earlier, albeit with less of an explicitly self-aggrandizing edge by someone who was in a better position to walk the talk.
Gary Carter loomed as a game changer. He all but promised he’d be a game changer. After the Mets exchanged four young players of considerable promise to have him change their game, he stood up at a press conference, pointed to his right ring finger and said he was saving it for the World Series rock he planned to win in New York.
How’s that for announcing one’s presence with authority?
It would become something of a teamwide tic for the mid-’80s Mets to let you know what they were going to do before they could possibly do it. Carter may have set the trend in December 1984. He definitely showed the Mets were set on being a team of their word come April 1985.
Gary Carter was a game changer before he ever played a game as a Met. He wasn’t imported à la George Foster to make the Mets respectable. The Mets respected themselves plenty in 1984. They won 90 games without the benefit of a massive offensive superstar. Foster wasn’t that anymore. Darryl Strawberry wasn’t that yet. Keith Hernandez was wily and able and as clutch as they came, but he needed a companion piece. A massive offensive superstar…and then some.
Gary Carter was that guy. He was the catcher in the National League since the sun set on Johnny Bench. Despite the wear and tear crouching and blocking wrought, he led the league in runs batted in as an Expo in 1984. He’d been around for ten years, and though Montreal was, by its management’s own assessment, through as a title contender, Carter wasn’t.
He was what the Mets needed. He landed at Shea and in the Mets fan imagination as that proverbial last piece of the puzzle. The puzzle had only been unveiled in ’84, but here everybody was, frenzied to finish it.
Gary Carter made Mets fans view their team differently. Maybe for the first time ever, the Mets entered the upcoming season positioned not as a contender, but as a favorite. As the favorite in the National League East. There was Hernandez, who wasn’t getting any dumber. There was Strawberry, who was only going to get better. There was Foster, who had, if nothing else, reversed his disappointing trajectory since 1982. And there was all that pitching — Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling fronting the rotation, Jesse Orosco capping the bullpen.
And now to catch those pitchers and slug among those hitters: Gary Carter, superstar. With him, the thinking surrounding the Mets shifted perceptibly from “if” to “when”.
The thinking within the Mets began at the end of the 1983 season when Frank Cashen was engaged in conversation with his Expo counterpart, John McHale. Montreal’s perennially talented troupe had again come up shy of expectations. They were an expensive team not delivering sufficient value in their ownership’s eyes. Change was gonna have to come. And Cashen, being Cashen, let McHale know that if he was ever interested in moving his signature piece, the Mets would love to talk about it.
Come the offseason that followed 1984, the conversations between Montreal and New York began in earnest. Carter, more popular with Expos fans than Expos teammates (and stung by Expo owner Charles Bronfman’s comments that his long-term contract may have been a mistake), had let it be known he’d waive his no-trade clause if he were to land on a contender where he’d fit snugly. The teams he had in mind were the Braves, the Dodgers and the one he’d seen for himself improve by leaps and bounds in ’84 — the one on which he understood a sparkling personality like his could shine.
He informed the Expos he’d accept a trade to the Mets.
The talks between Cashen and McHale’s successor, Murray Cook, commenced. The Expos had needs. A catcher would have to replace Carter. Mike Fitzgerald could easily be that guy, at least in that he played the same position. They required a center fielder so Andre Dawson and his aching knees could switch to right. Mookie Wilson could have been that guy — the Mets dangled him — but the Expos preferred Herm Winningham, who hit .407 as a September callup. The Expos needed a shortstop, ideally with some pop, and whaddaya know, Hubie Brooks had suddenly become a shortstop in September.
Better yet, as December unfolded, the Mets had a new third baseman in the fold, having traded Walt Terrell to world champion Detroit for Howard Johnson. Brooks had been solid for the Mets for five seasons, but with Rafael Santana available to play short and with the man they called HoJo joining Ray Knight on the roster, they felt covered at third. The Expos could have Brooks. They could also have one of the many promising pitching prospects the Mets seemed to be growing as if they were weeds, Double-A righthander Floyd Youmans, a hard-throwing high school teammate of Gooden’s in Tampa.
So there was the package: Fitzgerald, Winningham, Brooks and Youmans for the most beloved baseball player in Canada since Rusty Staub. But the Expos sent Rusty Staub to the Mets once upon a time and they survived. The Mets once upon a time sent their most beloved baseball player away for four youngsters and they survived the Tom Seaver trade. The Expos consented to the Mets’ offer. Carter consented to the destination the Expos had arranged.
On December 10, 1984, word got out. Gary Carter was a New York Met. The game had been changed.
“The season should be starting tomorrow,” Carter told the media assembled at Shea Stadium for his hot stove introduction. His enthusiasm and optimism for what he called “the land of opportunity” proved infectious. The Mets sold more than a thousand season tickets in the two days following the announcement of his acquisition.
“Anybody who picked us right now would have to make us a top contender,” the new catcher in town projected. “And a team that could win the National League East. And a team that could go on to win the whole thing. We are on the verge.”
The sense Carter articulated permeated the rest of that winter, filtered into Spring Training — where the only comparable story was George Plimpton’s Sports Illustrated April 1 exclusive on LaLooshish Mets pitching prospect Sidd Finch — and grew ever more tangible as his official debut approached. There was as much anticipation packed into the countdown toward Opening Day 1985 as any there’s been for any Mets Opening Day. Dwight Gooden would be pitching to Gary Carter. Gary Carter would be batting after Keith Hernandez. Gary Carter would be batting before Darryl Strawberry.
How could the big day not beckon?
Kid, as Carter was known (though not always affectionately), turned 31 the day before his first game as a Met. His real celebration came in the company of 46,781 fans who were thrilled to pay for and attend that Tuesday game despite a cognitively dissonant chill in the air. This was to be the first Mets game Gary Carter would literally change. This was a day for heated expectation, for what Tim McCarver judged a “World Series atmosphere”.
Yet nothing was destined to come easy as 1985 got going. The Opening Day on which Gary Carter put his right ring finger where his mouth was unfolded as a frozen slog. Vice President George Bush showed up at Shea for ceremonial first-pitch duties, but it was too cold for Tampa native Gooden to get a good grip when the real game began. Still, Doc lasted into the seventh, leaving with a 5-2 lead. Foster (homer), Hernandez (a pair of RBI singles), HoJo (bases-loaded walk in his first Mets game) and Santana (run-scoring double) built the lead. With Gooden gone, Carter turned his attention to catching Doug Sisk. But Sisk, a weakening bullpen link as 1984 wound down, gave up a two-run single to Andy Van Slyke in the seventh.
It was 5-4. It grew colder. Then it turned positively icy. Sisk loaded the bases in the ninth. With two outs, he faced Jack Clark. Carter caught ball four. Tie game.
Gary Carter didn’t promise that.
The game moved to the bottom of the ninth. The Mets loaded the bases this time, but failed to score. Extras were next. Tom Gorman came on to pitch, relieving Jesse Orosco, who had bailed out Sisk. Gorman escaped the top of the tenth. To the bottom of the inning, then, where Neil Allen, a Met from 1979 to 1983, faced the man for whom he was traded, Keith Hernandez. It would be dramatic as anything if Hernandez (who reached Allen for a game-winning single the previous summer) could end this now frigid afternoon with one swing.
But Hernandez struck out. Drama, however, didn’t. Allen vs. Carter would do fine. Carter, in fact, did very well, ending his New York debut with a four-base flourish.
“Welcome to New York, Gary Carter!” is how Steve Zabriskie called it on Channel 9 after Kid’s game-winning shot soared over Shea’s left field fence.
“That’s what he’s here for,” is how Hernandez characterized the swing in the clubhouse.
“Ga-ree! Ga-ree!” was the chant that broke out in the stands.
And Carter, true to his Montreal reputation, wasn’t struck silent by his feat.
“There’s not enough words to describe what it feels like,” said the man who New Yorkers would discern rarely ran out of words. “I’ll certainly remember this the rest of my life. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it, the feeling of warmth, of acceptance.”
The Mets had won 6-5, courtesy of the game changer. Carter, like the Mets, was 1-0 in 1985. Welcome to New York, indeed. Nobody had ever made himself at home so quickly at Shea Stadium.
That, young Nuke, is what it means to announce — and begin to sustain — your presence with authority.