There’s nothing like Opening Day to bring out the florid, sincere, hope-springs-eternal optimism for fans of all 30 major league teams—or at least any not actively tanking. Even the generally pessimistic Met fan can approach things with more optimism than usual given the franchise’s astounding 37-20 Opening Day record, made all the more amazing given that the team lost its first eight openers.
As a spiritual holiday for the baseball diehard—and perhaps the only day that the casual fan pays attention until summer—Opening Day results can truly stand out. While it has largely been a joyous holiday for the Mets, it wouldn’t be a Met list without some heartbreak. Here we take a look back at some of the most memorable openers in franchise history—both for the worst and the best reasons.
Worst Opening Days
Sure, the Mets won, thanks to home runs from Jose Vizcaino, Todd Hundley, and Jeff Kent—but hey, they do that almost all the time on Opening Day. Rather, the enduring memory of this game is of journeyman Tuffy Rhodes taking Doc Gooden deep into the Wrigley bleachers thrice—three of his 13 career home runs. While it had been a couple of years since the Mets in general—and the Good Doctor in particular—had been successful, it felt like a sad coda to all of that faded glory and promise of those ‘80s Mets, in what would be Gooden’s last season in blue and orange.
5. April 8, 1969, Shea Stadium—Expos 11, Mets 10 (Box)
The Mets eighth season of existence started the way each previous one had—with a loss. Tom Seaver didn’t have it, surrendering four runs (two earned) over five innings, and Rusty Staub tormented his future team, going 2-3 with three walks and a huge home run in the eighth. A furious ninth inning rally cut the Expos lead from 11-6 to 11-10, but Rod Gaspar struck out with two men on to end it. That this loss was to an expansion franchise in its inaugural game made it all the more painful, and seemed to augur yet another season of pre-internet LOLMets. Miracle of miracles, it did not.
The Mets kicked off what would be the seventh straight season they would finish in first or second place (where were you when we needed you, Wild Card?) by enduring a brutal 12-3 drubbing at the hands of the up-and-coming Pirates. A young Barry Bonds was mostly silent, but the rest of the dynamic Pittsburgh outfield, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla, combined for three home runs. You might not have known it at the time, but a torch was being passed.
The “New Mets” of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez kicked off the season by getting off to an exciting start early in Cincinnati. Beltran’s two-run home run in the top of the third tied the game at 3, while Martinez bounced back from a shaky first inning, flashing vintage Pedro form in striking out 12 of the final 17 batters he faced in an electric performance. When Cliff Floyd hit a three-run home run in the top of the seventh, it looked as if Pedro and the Mets would secure another Opening Day victory. Enter Braden Looper in the bottom of the ninth of a 6-4 Mets lead, and three batters and two home runs later, Adam Dunn walked off the Mets with his second home run of the game.
2. March 31, 2003, Shea Stadium—Cubs 15, Mets 2 (Box)
Tom Glavine’s Met debut was a bitter one—and bitterly cold, to boot. At the time the earliest opening day date in Mets history (at least in the Western Hemisphere), the game day temperature was 39 degrees. Glavine allowed 12 baserunners and 5 runs over 3.2 innings before Mike Bacsik turned it into even more of a laugher, surrendering 9 more runs over his 2 innings in a game that, if you think was painful to watch on television, was infinitely more excruciating to watch amid the biting 20 MPH winds swirling through the bowels of Shea’s Mezzanine.
I have to confess, this is the only Opening Day I remember choosing not to watch over the last 30+ years, so I can’t really say if it was a particularly tough one-run loss. But with only one interleague series in each set of MLB series, and 20 interleague games a year against a limited, preordained spate of opponents, the odds of having to kick off the season not celebrating your pennant, but rather reliving a World Series rematch against the team that crushed your dreams the previous season was… apparently even money for the Mets. And don’t even get me started on opening 2007 in Busch. Thanks, scheduling gods.
Best Opening Days
Sure, the Mets lost—but hey, they’d do plenty of that in 1962. However, after a painful four years in which New York was deprived of National League baseball, the Mets burst into existence. The team committed three errors and lost by seven in what would be a harbinger of a long season of bumbling and losing, though Gil Hodges did launch the first home run in the history of a franchise he would one day lead to glory. For current and future generations, something Amazin’ was born.
5. April 4, 1988, Stade Olympique—Mets 10, Expos 6 (Box)
The 1988 squad kicked off the season by raining home runs down on the Montreal Expos, launching six in the game. From a practical standpoint, the big blow was Lenny Dykstra’s two-out, three-run home in the top of the sixth, snapping a 4-4 tie. But from a memory (and physics) standpoint, the big blow was Darryl Strawberry’s seventh inning shot off of Randy St. Claire that struck the Olympic Stadium roof, stunning the Montreal crowd of 55,143 (Bring back the ‘Spos!) into silence. Estimates were that the ball would have traveled 525 feet were that pesky roof not in the way.
What could be better than Tom Seaver taking on Steve Carlton on Opening Day in the prime of their careers? Tom Terrific would kick off his second Cy Young campaign—and a season that would see the Mets Believe their way to a pennant—by outdueling Carlton 3-0 at Shea. Cleon Jones took Lefty deep twice to provide all three runs, and Tug McGraw would come on to get the final four outs to record the save in a crisp, clean, pace-of-play friendly 1:56.
3. April 5, 1983, Shea Stadium—Mets 2, Phillies 0 (Box)
What could be better? How about a Seaver/Carlton rematch (technically the record fifth time the two opposed each other on Opening Day)? Only this time, the Franchise was returning home to throw his first pitch in a Met uniform since June 12, 1977. Seaver came out to a thunderous ovation from the 46,687 in attendance, kicked off the season by striking out Pete Rose, and proceeded to throw six scoreless innings—of course. Seaver was denied the win, as Carlton matched his zeroes through six. The Mets finally broke through in the seventh on an RBI single from Mike Howard and a sacrifice fly from Brian Giles, as Doug Sisk(!) hurled three innings to get accredited the “W” in a game that will always be remembered for the Franchise coming home.
2. April 9, 1985, Shea Stadium—Mets 6, Cardinals 5 (10) (Box)
In a back-and-forth affair that would mirror the exhilarating back-and-forth season the two teams would engage in all year, the Mets drew first blood when their prized new acquisition won it in style. The Mets went ahead 5-2 on single runs in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, but St. Louis scrapped back, putting two on against Gooden in the top of the seventh. Doug Sisk would allow both inherited runners to score, then allowed the tying run on a bases loaded walk to Jack Clark in the top of the ninth. Both teams would leave the bases loaded in the ninth, which only set the stage for The Kid to take former Met Neil Allen deep into the left-field bullpen for a glorious camera moment. Welcome to New York, Gary Carter indeed!
1. April 7, 1987, Shea Stadium—Mets 3, Pirates 2 (Box)
Flags fly forever, right? Well, the 1970 squad opened against these same Pirates, two stadiums ago in Forbes Field. So, this marks the only time the Met faithful have gotten to celebrate Opening Day at home watching a World Championship banner raised. Darryl Strawberry’s two-out, three-run blast in the first inning spotted Bob Ojeda all the runs he would need. Ojeda scattered 10 hits over seven innings, and Jesse Orosco closed it out a bit less demonstratively than in his previous outing. It seemed like the good times would never end—just as it should on Opening Day.