Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Failure To Answer The Bell

Whether you had good expectations for the Mets over the course of the regular season or not is sort of academic as far as Opening Day is concerned. The Mets almost always come away with a victory on Opening Day, usually giving the fans that come out to see them some nice good vibes to take home for a couple of days. Usually. I've been to Opening Day each of the last 10 years now, and in years when Opening Day was actually Opening Day (and not just the home opener), the Mets are 4-1.

The one, of course, was yesterday, when a series of feel-good stories, courtesy of Dillon Gee, Andrew Brown and Juan Lagares ultimately dissolved into a series of failures by a Bullpen unit that was considered shaky to begin with and ended up justifying everyone's fears. Even worse, the Bullpen became even more shorthanded this morning when it was revealed that Bobby Parnell was injured and probably badly enough to require surgery.

Things started out reasonably well enough for the Mets, despite a few harbingers that things were going to go sour. First, Chris Young, who was expected to start in Left Field, came down with a Quad injury and couldn't play. Daniel Murphy was unavailable due to his impending fatherhood. Their absences, however, couldn't dampen the spirits of the fans, who were certainly out in full force despite great weather for Football (the wind so bad in the seating area that fans abandoned their seats in droves for the "warmer" confines of the concourses). Howie Rose welcomed everyone to the 2014 National League Season, the shofar was blown and away we went...except that the Mets took the field without a 1st Baseman. The missing man at 1st went on long enough for me to muse that perhaps the Mets had simply decided that no 1st Baseman was better than the ones they had, but then Ike Davis popped out of the dugout to the delight of everyone in attendance and away we went.

With 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 1st, courtesy of hits by Lagares and Wright, Andrew Brown came to the plate. George mused to me that he had no idea who the hell Brown even was. I mentioned that he was on the roster last season, but that he didn't do anything to particularly distinguish himself. The ensuing discussion of the exploits of Andrew Brown ended with the conclusion that Andrew Brown is a Professional Baseball player who plays in the Major Leagues and is capable of occasionally getting a hit. Brown then proved that he is also capable of running into a Stephen Strasburg fastball and blasting it into the Left Field seats for a 3-run Home Run. This was, of course, completely unexpected but nonetheless warmly welcomed by all who saw it.

Staked to an early lead, Dillon Gee, himself an unlikely presence on Opening Day, nonetheless went out and pitched great, save for one bad pitch to Adam LaRoche that was deposited into the bullpen. Following that, Gee settled in and retired 15 Nationals in a row, a streak that stretched into the 7th inning. For Gee, who'd pitched especially well over the 2nd half of last season, this was really picking up right where he'd left off. He pitched great, both effective and economical until he ran out of gas in the 7th. But he managed to get within shouting distance of getting out of the inning until Anthony Rendon reached him for an RBI double that made the score 4-3.

Then the Bullpen took over.

Then things pretty much went downhill from there.

It took 3 pitchers and 9 pitches before a Met reliever managed to throw a strike, which right there should tell you how well things were going. Carlos Torres walked his batter. Scott Rice walked his, forcing in the tying run and stripping Gee of what would have been a well-deserved win. Finally Jose Valverde, Papa Grande of all people, somehow managed to restore order to an imminent disaster, striking out Ryan Zimmerman after a sweaty 9-pitch at bat.

Valverde's perfect 8th inning was icing on the cake and for a hot second it appeared he would be the game's unsung hero when the second unlikely Mets Home Run of the day came courtesy of Juan Lagares leading off the bottom of the 8th. Lagares, like Brown, probably wasn't supposed to be in the Opening Day lineup, but circumstances brought him there, and Lagares, who seems to be one of those "if only..." guys on the Mets roster, justified his presence in the lineup with a pair of hits and 3 runs, including a laser of a Home Run off Tyler Clippard that briefly gave the Mets a 5-4 lead and had everyone dreaming of a nice, clean 9th inning and another happy Opening Day.

Then, of course, the rest of the game happened. Bobby Parnell didn't have it and Jeurys Familia and John Lannan had even less, and the result was a Blown Save and a 10th Inning meltdown that needs no recapping except to say that it was horrible and made a cold day feel even colder. Perhaps in another dimension, Lannan gets Anthony Rendon to pop out and David Wright ends up the hero, but instead, Wright's Home Run, which capped a 3-hit performance, was purely putting lipstick on the pig that was this 9-7 loss.

I suppose I probably should have known better than to think things would turn out well on a day that was so miserably cold in the wind tunnel that is the Citi Field Promenade that George and I willingly spent an inning watching from the Promenade Club. True, it's easy to overreact. But given the compounding circumstances surrounding the team, and the fans, and the general dissatisfaction with the way the organization has been going, how could any Mets fan come away from this game feeling very good? The bullpen is a complete disaster, at bats in key spots are being given to Lucas Duda and the equally worthless Omar Quintanilla, and even though they might be excused for having faced Strasburg, striking out 18 times on Opening Day is pretty far from confidence-inspiring. Hopefully this isn't a sign for the rest of the season.

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