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Best Win of the Season So Far

Wait. Wait a little more. Wait just a little more.

Now. Now you can have your Opening Day. I mean Opening Night. I mean Opening Night win. It’s yours. No strings. No hamstrings even, as far as we know. It arrived in our laps a little bruised, a little soggy and a little too late to be accepted in total alertitude, but at the end of the day/night and on the morning after, it’s clean and it counts.

Are you happy? Why shouldn’t you be? Because instead of COVID-19 locking everybody in until late July, as it did in 2020, or just the positive-testing Nationals with the Mets as collateral bystanders, as it did in 2021, the Major League owners conspired to lock everybody out until the middle of March? That? That was so one month ago. Spring Training simultaneously waited and rushed. It didn’t rush quickly enough to get us to the previously agreed upon date that was going to open 2022. So we waited an extra week. Opening at home on March 31 at one in the afternoon was out. Opening at Washington on April 7 at four in the afternoon was in.

Except rain was in the DC forecast, so four o’clock became seven o’clock, a sensible move. The forecast was righter than rain, so first pitch had to be pushed back another 76 minutes. The Nationals needed not only to dry the field but extravagantly introduce approximately every member of their support staff plus most of the residents of the region known colloquially as the DMV (for the District, Maryland and Virginia, not for sitting through ceremonies taking as long to complete as a trip to renew one’s motor vehicle registration). If the Nats were to lose, it wouldn’t be for lack of acknowledgment of support staff. After Nationals Park public address announcer Jerome Hruska dug deep to discover syllables in “JOSH BELL” that the Nats’ first baseman had no idea he had in either his first or last name — we wish Mr. Hruska’s throat well — and both pomp and circumstance dutifully tipped their caps, it was time to…oh, what was it we were waiting for the Mets to do for so long?

Right. Play ball. I mean PLAY BALL! You don’t need to be Jerome Hruska to cry those words out in excitement.

At 8:21 PM Eastern Rainlight Time, we proceeded. Starling Marte [1] stepped in. Patrick Corbin delivered. And we were off on what projects as a 162-game journey. The Mets didn’t play 162 games on Thursday night. It only felt like it took six months.

Nah, it was a mere three hours and thirty-one minutes, and if you didn’t nod off briefly during the duration (which I must admit I did), you came away beaming from five runs for the Mets and only one for the Nationals. That’s a 5-1 Mets win [2], in case you’re out of practice remembering how this stuff works. The Nats were the losers here, and the Braves lost their first game, too. The Phillies and Marlins were idle. The Mets are alone in first place. In a wet spring when everything’s been late, it’s never too early to enjoy whatever we can.

Game One might have loomed as too early from a starting pitching standpoint, what with Jacob deGrom likely available no sooner than June and Max Scherzer needing an extra day to certify his hammy sufficiently loose to stick it to his former team, but you can’t say Tylor Megill [3] wasn’t right on time for this affair, whenever it started. Megill’s Opening Night in the majors was only last June. I saw him before I really knew who he was. I was impressed then [4]. I’m more impressed now. Unmoved by the season’s inaugural ceremoniousness and unwilling to succumb to self-imposed pressure, Tylor simply dealt. He shut out the Nationals of Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz and whoever else Hruska thrust into the vocal stratosphere for five innings, outpitching and outlasting the exponentially more decorated Patrick Corbin. Score one for the “just another game” crowd this Opening Night. Still, let’s not treat what Tylor did as ordinary. It was Opening Night! That’s something to rope off and treat with white gloves. Given the sense of occasion that belongs only to Game One, let’s call Megill just another Seaver, Gooden and deGrom, to name three starting pitchers who’ve tidily racked up Ws to commence Met campaigns.

Five of the Mets’ eight new players [5] played and their collective contributions were palpable. Right fielder Marte, third baseman Eduardo Escobar [6] (the Mets’ 179th man on third) and center fielder Mark Canha combined for four hits and displayed sound defense. Middle reliever Adam Ottavino [7] threw a scoreless seventh. Travis Jankowski [8] entered as a pinch-runner for someone simultaneously old and new, Robinson Cano [9], playing again at 39 after a year’s suspension for PED use. Cano had two hits, including a beauty of a bunt that laughed in the face of a Nationals’ shift. Cano belongs in that conversation of ballplayers who can fall out of bed and line a single to right in the dead of winter, assuming he’s eligible to lace up his slippers.

The Mets as a unit rapped out a dozen hits, worked four walks and absorbed three baseballs to the body. One wishes to assume each pitch got away from whichever Nat threw it. One also hopes Buck Showalter and Jeremy Hefner suggest a little high-and-tightness to Scherzer when he goes tonight. One believes Scherzer won’t have to be told. (Ah, pastoral baseball, where we only thirst for blood when we perceive we’ve been wronged.) James McCann [10] was plunked twice, the first time on the foot with the bases loaded, so that surely wasn’t intentional. The pitch that dinged Pete Alonso [11] looked as if it could have been serious, and he exited to be examined. As everybody’s favorite diagnosis goes, they looked at Pete’s head and found nothing.

This first game featured the first regularly scheduled designated hitter in Mets National League history, if we don’t count Interleague interruptions or the improvisation of 2020. That claptrap is here to stay, permanently upsetting longtime fans who use phrases like “claptrap”. I’ve decided to not be an ostentatious lost-causer about the removal of the bat from the pitcher’s hands. I mean, yeah, at heart, I will never give up on the notion that the ninth spot will rise again, but for practical purposes, I can’t bang the traditionalist’s drum every single game that has a DH because, well, every single game has a DH and you can only make so much noise to no purpose for so long (ask Jerome Hruska). J.D. Davis [12], who has always scalded Corbin, got the gig on Night One and chipped in a double, initially supporting the theory that the Mets have always built their roster with a surfeit of designated hitter types.

Megill, incidentally, was the last Mets pitcher to get a hit, in Atlanta last October. Just sayin’, as they say.

Showalter, meanwhile, surpassed Carlos Beltran, you, me and your uncle (unless your uncle is Joe Torre) on the all-time Mets wins managed list, notching his first. I look for Mike Cubbage and Salty Parker to be breezed by pretty soon. Buck, if you haven’t noticed, has been around. Every win for a while will seem the product of his wisdom and experience. I’m willing to go with that until we have some reason to derive dissatisfaction from his reassuring presence. We’re Mets fans. We’ll find one. I thought it might be Buck’s opting to insert Edwin Diaz [13] into the ninth inning despite it not being a save situation and the non-save situation transpiring at National Park, where Diaz’s lifetime ERA is pretty close to infinity [14]. The manager and the reliever got away with that one. Or maybe they’re both better at what they do when we believe we would be.

Whatever our irks, we are conditioned cheer a solid win like Thursday night’s; a triumphant return like that of Gary, Keith and Ron to on-site road telecasts; and the knowledge that even if 1-0 won’t necessarily become 2-0 (and we won’t see it without activating Apple TV+, automatically pre-empting GKR) baseball is back. No matter the indignities of lengthy lockouts, nearly as lengthy replay reviews (whose imperfect outcomes are now at least announced by umpires, as if that’s an innovation) and ubiquitous ads informing us we’d sure enjoy this rite of renewal a lot more if we put some money on it —all you kids out there, bet the over on time of game — we flocked back for this and most of us will keep flocking regardless of routine-disrupting streaming, gambling come-ons, rule changes we didn’t ask for and general slogginess.

We love coming together for a baseball season. We are forever flocked that way.