March 29: After a week of exhibition games, daring sojourns into the Tokyo subway system (driven by players weary of the team bus), sightseeing, and shopping, the Mets got down to the business of actually playing baseball. They would technically be the home team on opening day, the first ever outside of North America, in front of a Tokyo Dome crowd of 55,000 that included the Japanese royal family.
New Met Mike Hampton was uncharacteristically wild and found himself down 1-0 two batters into the game. The Mets tied the game on a Darryl Hamilton sac fly in the third, but Hampton gave up a bases-loaded walk in the top of the fifth (one of nine he issued) to put Chicago back on top. The Cubs put the game out of reach with a two-run homer by Shane Andrews and a solo shot by Mark Grace. Mike PIazza crushed a 450-foot two-run bomb of his own in the eighth inning to make the game close, but not close enough. The 5-3 loss was closed out by a familiar face: Rick Aguilera, member of the Mets rotation in 1986.
Bobby Valentine irked Cubs manager Don Baylor late in the game by questioning his lineup card (one player was listed twice) and lodging an official protest, which he later withdrew. His main gripe: Valentine had chosen to raise the issue with two outs in the ninth, which made it seem as if the Mets manager was trying to stall the game and ice his closer. Baylor was still angry enough the next day to not only accuse Valentine of cheating, but suggest he'd learned to do so from his mentor, Tommy Lasorda (who just so happened to be in attendance).
"Too bad," Valentine said when hearing of Baylor's grousing. "You mean he was upset that he made a mistake or he was upset that I was trying to do my job?"
March 30: The Mets earned their first win of the year in dramatic fashion, thanks to a player whose future with the team was still uncertain. Rick Reed allowed only one unearned run in eight innings, but his teammates could do little against Cubs starter Kyle Farnsworth, and the game went into extras tied at 1. In the top of the 11th, the Mets loaded the bases with two outs and the pitcher's spot due up. Valentine batted for Dennis Cook with Benny Agbayani, who'd already demanded a trade if he was sent back down to Norfolk (once Glendon Rusch was needed as the fifth starter, Agbayani was suspected to be the casualty whose departure would make room for him). Perhaps encouraged by dinner with a famous sumo wrestler, Agbayani muscled a 1-0 pitch from rookie Danny Young to straight-away center field for a game-winning grand slam.
Feel good story though it might be, Agbayani was given no guarantees that his home run earned him more time in the bigs. "He knows the situation we have to deal with," Valentine said after the game. "Benny's a big boy and baseball is a game that's not always fair."
All things considered, it was a successful, rewarding trip, and most Mets declared they would do it again if given the chance. The team was treated like kings by the baseball-mad Japanese public--even pitching coach Dave Wallace, who was famous for working with Hideo Nomo when they were both with the Dodgers.
Next: A 12-hour flight, a few much-needed days off, and their true home opener of the year against the Padres at Shea