Monday, April 6, 2009
GAME 1 -- METS RELIEVERS ARE THE SEAL DEAL: BULLPEN AIRTIGHT IN 2-1 WIN
Seven times last season, Mets' ace Johan Santana (left) exited a game with a lead, only to have the balky bullpen blow it.
So this afternoon, no one could blame him if he felt his stomach clench and his nerves buckle after being unexpectedly removed in the top of the sixth inning and having to sweat out the next three.
But one momentarily scary line drive and three uneventful innings later, after imported relievers Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez combined to retire 10 of the last 11 opposing hitters, Santana, his teammates and tortured Mets fans could relax. The Mets rode a gutty performance by Santana and a stellar effort by the bullpen to defeat the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1 on a raw, wet Opening Day, despite leaving 12 men on base -- including seven in scoring position. From the start, it seemed some Mets picked up where they left off in 2008.
Jose Reyes, who last year became only the second Met in club history to record more than 200 hits in a season, led off with a single and then stole second base, to add to his franchise-leading total. But in an eerie similarity to so many occasions last season, David Wright failed to bring Reyes home from third base, striking out against Reds' starting pitcher, Aaron Harang, with only one out. The Mets would leave the bases loaded in the fourth inning while Santana kept the Reds scoreless and then broke through in the fifth after left-fielder Daniel Murphy fouled off three 3-and-2 pitches, then drove a solo home run into the right field bleachers.
New York threatened to add to its lead, but Wright was nailed at home on a throw by Reds' right-fielder Jay Bruce on a Carlos Beltran single. It was a tough day on the basepaths for Wright, who, representing a valuable potential insurance run in the top of the ninth inning was picked off first base by pitcher Francisco Cordero.
Murphy drove in the second Mets run in the sixth inning with an RBI groundout before Santana -- who is undefeated since last July -- would be tested and surrender a run. Darnell McDonald lined a broken-bat single to start the inning and advanced to third base on a ground single by Joey Votto which narrowly eluded Santana's glove and an errant throw from Beltran. Brandon Phillips drove home the Reds' only run on a sacrifice fly and Santana exited after getting Jay Bruce on a foul pop to Wright.
That set the stage for Green, making his Mets' debut. A screaming line drive by Edwin Encarnacion at first appeared to be a game-tying extra-base hit to the left-center field gap, but Murphy, who'll never be known for his defense, sprinted over and flagged it down. Green, a sinker-slider pitcher, got three consecutive ground ball outs before giving way to Putz, who hurled a scoreless eighth inning before yielding to Rodriguez, who overpowered Reds' hitters on a weak groundout, a foul pop and a swinging strikeout.
At that moment, Rodriguez characteristically thumped his chest with both hands, then exclaimed while pointing skyward.
Moments later, when he repeated the gesture for good measure, it seemed fitting.
After last season, Santana and his teammates had to feel doubly thankful -- even after just one game.
Winning pitcher -- Johan Santana (1-0)
Losing pitcher -- Aaron Harang (0-1)
Save -- Francisco Rodriguez (1)
Home runs -- Murphy (1)
RBI -- Murphy (2)
Stolen bases -- Reyes (1), Church (1)
Web gems: Ryan Church makes sliding, juggling catch of a Ramon Hernandez line drive, then throws out Edwin Encarnacion scrambling back to first base (bottom second, none out). David Wright makes diving, short-hopped scoop of hard hit drive by Alex Gonzalez, then throws him out (bottom seventh, one out.)
Posted by Gil Griffin at 9:49 PM