A long offseason of bitter depression gave way to childlike optimism, all of which culminated in a much-anticipated baseball game played yesterday afternoon at Dolphins Stadium in Miami. The Mets won the game 7-2 behind a great starting effort by Johan Santana and a solid wrap-up by the bullpen. The game was exciting for all of the obvious reasons, but it was also interesting in the sense that it was a sort of microcosm of my own expectations of the season to come. Some observations:
Johan Santana is reasonably proficient
Seven innings, three hits, two runs, eight strikeouts, a couple of walks, 100 pitches, 68 strikes. He looked merely good at times, masterful at others. Some will point out the fact that he dominated a pretty crummy Marlins team. I'll point out that even without Miguel Cabrera the Marlins have a pretty good offense, capable of putting up at least league average production. Their pitching is wretched, and will lead to their undoing, but they are far from anemic with the bat. Santana gave up the two-run blast to Josh Willingham that broke up the prematurely-prognosticated no-hitter in the fourth inning, but otherwise prevented the Marlins from sustaining any kind of consistent attack.
What's more, Santana seemed to moxie up* as the innings wore on. His pitch count hit the century mark just as he struck out Matt Treanor to end the seventh inning, and were it later in the season and the game of greater import you can be sure that Santana would have gone back out there for the eighth. A fine debut by almost any measure.
* Made up expression. Think "Cowboy Up", only add 47% more moxie and a sprig of your favorite tired baseball cliché. Allow to cool, serve and enjoy.
The top half of the lineup is good
The top four spots in the Mets lineup -- Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo, David Wright and Carlos Beltran -- combined to go 7-for-16 with three walks, a resplendent performance from a group of hitters who will be expected to shoulder much of this team's offensive payload. Each member of the quartet reached base at least twice, with Castillo and Wright reaching three times apiece. Reyes and Wright each got a little overzealous on the basepaths, getting thrown out stealing second and third, respectively. Replays show that one or both might have actually been safe, but it was a bad day on the bases for a team that led the National League in swipes last season.
The bottom half of the order is bad
The bottom four spots in the lineup -- Carlos Delgado, Angel Pagan, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider -- combined to go 2-for-14 with a walk, an underwhelming effort even for this group. The two hits *did* contribute to the Mets' six-run fourth inning, with Pagan and Church knocking in the first two runs of the game. I'm not going to get too down on this group after just one game, but let's just say that my opinion of them as offensive performers wasn't swayed much by the results of this particular contest.
Willie properly leveraging his bullpen
Bwaaahh? Bullpen management has been one of Willie Randolph's most egregious failings as Mets skipper, but he did a fine job yesterday of leveraging the platoon advantage held by some of his relievers. Matt Wise relieved Santana to begin the eighth inning and allowed two of the first three hitters to reach base. With Mike Jacobs approaching the dish, Willie Randolph pulled Wise in favor of Schoeneweis to get the lefty-lefty matchup that swung the balance in the Mets' favor. Were the game closer, the bullpen call would have gone to Pedro Feliciano, but if you can't bring in The Show to face a lefty with a four-run lead in the first game of the season, you probably can't bring him in at all. Schoeneweis got Jacobs to ground out harmlessly to first, advancing the baserunners to second-and-third in the process.
Were this 2007 (or 2006 or 2005 for that matter), I was pretty confident that Schoeneweis would have been left in the game to face Willingham, who had homered four innings earlier. Willie Randolph v2008.1 had other ideas, though, and signaled the bullpen to send in Jorge Sosa and his tornado slider, utilizing the righty-righty platoon advantage against Willingham. Sosa struck out the Marlins left-fielder to end the threat, and after the Mets added a tack-on run in the top of the ninth Aaron Heilman came on and blew away Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross and Luis Gonzalez to wrap up the Mets' first win of the season and Johan Santana's first win as a Met.
The best part? The Mets are 1-0 and they still have Pedro Martinez taking the mound tonight. How good does that feel?