The Mets almost always ace the first test. They won another home opener on Friday, a 10-3 rout over the Arizona Diamondbacks with Citi Field bathed in sun. This is their 61st season, and the 40th time they have won their first home game.
That works out to a .656 winning percentage for the Mets in their annual introduction to the New York fans. In all other games, their winning percentage is .479. The first impression does not always hold.
This time, though, things really might be different. The Mets have the best record in the major leagues, at 6-2. They are missing a two-time Cy Young Award winner, the injured Jacob deGrom, yet their starters have a 1.32 earned run average. They lost two everyday outfielders to the Covid-19 injured list on Friday, and still pummeled 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 rocky debut season with the team. Lindor scored three runs on Friday, walking twice, stealing a base and slamming his second and third home runs of the season. In 2021, his third homer did not come until May 15, and he carried a sub-.200 batting average into June.
For the Mets and their fans, Friday was a chance to believe in what the organization can be at its best. The Mets finally honored Tom Seaver, who died in 2020, with the statue he deserved years ago: a towering 10-foot monument of The Franchise in stride. Think of all the parents and grandparents who can point to it, now and forever, as the definition of drop-and-drive, the mechanics of a master.
The statue, by William Behrends, stands near the entrance to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the grand entranceway to the ballpark that Fred Wilpon built. Knock 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 loyalties.
The displays within the rotunda, which harkens to 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 for him, Robinson Canoe, 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 fell – is a problematic torchbearer, returning this season after a yearlong suspension for another failed test for performance-enhancing drugs. But the Mets were glad to have him in the lineup on Friday, with Mark Canha and Brandon Nimmo unavailable.
Both players tested positive for the coronavirus – as did the bench coach, Glenn Sherlock – although they were said to be asymptomatic. Canha is fully vaccinated and boosted, and Nimmo has not revealed his status. A player can return earlier than 10 days with two negative PCR tests, but vaccinated players are usually cleared to return quicker than the unvaccinated.
“It’s part of life in the 2020s,” said manager Buck Showalter, “let alone baseball.”
Without Canha and Nimmo, Showalter gave Jeff McNeil his third start in left field and put Canó at second. Travis Jankowski – who starred at Stony Brook University a decade ago – started in center field and singled three times. Starling Mars got his usual start in right and did it all: a steal, a homer, two singles and three runs.
The Mets signed Mars for four years and $ 78 million as part of Steven A. Cohen’s pre-lockout spending binge. It was a lot of money for a 33-year-old player who relies on his legs and was once suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, but it squared with Cohen’s mission to win now.
The Mets’ opening day roster was the oldest in the majors, with an average age of 31.3 years, but they play with a youthful spirit; Mars, who loves cartoons, wears a necklace with a sparkling Mickey Mouse pendant. He sounds thrilled with his new surroundings.
“We’re always helping each other out,” Mars said through an interpreter. “After an at-bat, a guy will come in and give me pointers, or I’ll give another person pointers. But it’s really special to have guys at such different levels of experience to be able to contribute and to be willing to help each other. ”
Mars, who finished last season with Oakland, was not the only 33-year-old castoff from the cost-cutting A’s to wind up in Flushing. Starter Chris Bassitt worked six strong innings on Friday and won for the second time this season.
For old-timers, it called to mind the pitching line of Seaver’s final opening performance in New York: a six-inning dazzler against the Philadelphia Phillies to start the 1983 season. That season ended poorly 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 greatest Met is home – for good, in bronze, a callback to the team’s glory days on an afternoon that promised more to come.