Mets' bullpen ruins Opening Day in 10-inning loss to Nationals
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Sandy Alderson espoused the virtues of setting goals, of dispensing with the abstract in favor of the concrete, of raising expectations in a place that has grown accustomed to lowering them.
Before Game No. 1 of 162, the Mets' general manager Monday reiterated his belief that with this collection of talent, 90 wins is a reasonable goal. But long after the optimism of Opening Day faded from a chilly afternoon at Citi Field, all the Mets had done was prove how difficult it can be to win just one.
In a 9-7 loss to the Nationals, which took 10 innings to unfold, the Mets encountered some of the obstacles they may face along the way. Closer Bobby Parnell led a bullpen meltdown and the Mets set a franchise Opening Day record with 18 strikeouts.
It all added up to a sobering reminder of their deficiencies -- even on a day filled with hope.
"We gave this one away today, just flat-out gave it away," captain David Wright said. "For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we're not good enough to just be giving games away."
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th and the Mets trailing 9-5, Wright bashed a two-run homer off lefty Jerry Blevins for his third hit of the day, but it was hardly enough to take the Mets' relievers off the hook.
In his Mets debut, Long Beach product John Lannan surrendered a three-run homer by Anthony Rendon in the Nationals' four-run 10th to put a cap on a disastrous day for the bullpen.
But the real problems began earlier.
With the score tied at 5 in the 10th, Ian Desmond lifted a sacrifice fly to drive in Jayson Werth, who had advanced to third only because Travis d'Arnaud could not handle Jeurys Familia's fastball. Said d'Arnaud: "I should have caught that ball."
Of course, for the Mets, the outcome shouldn't have hinged on that mistake. Twice, the bullpen squandered leads.
Entering the seventh inning, the Mets led 4-2, bolstered by Andrew Brown's three-run homer in the first.
In the first Opening Day assignment of his career, Dillon Gee had settled into a groove. After allowing a long two-run homer in the second by Adam LaRoche, he retired 15 straight Nationals. But when he ran into trouble in the seventh, he got little relief.
Gee was chased after Rendon's RBI double cut the Nats' deficit to a run. With runners on second and third, righthander Carlos Torres issued a four-pitch walk to pinch hitter Nate McLouth to load the bases. Lefty Scott Rice made matters worse, walking Span on four pitches to force in the tying run.
"I let them come back in the game," said Gee, who was charged with four runs in 6 2/3 innings. "It starts with me. They gave me some runs off a real tough pitcher. The walks kind of hurt me today and I let them back in the game."
While Gee tried to absolve his teammates of blame, it couldn't mask one glaring fact: Of the first eight pitches thrown by the 2014 Mets' bullpen, not one of them was a strike.
When Jose Valverde restored some order in the seventh, throwing a first-pitch strike to Ryan Zimmerman, the standing-room-only crowd of 42,442 offered a mock cheer. Valverde wound up striking out three of the four batters he faced.
The Mets' bullpen got one more chance at redemption. Juan Lagares slammed a solo homer in the eighth that put Parnell in line to slam the door in the ninth.
Parnell has endured a long rehab from a neck issue that ended his 2013 season in July and required surgery. And though he's pitched throughout spring training, his normal velocity has yet to make a full return. Against the Nationals, it cost him.
Topping out at 94 mph, Parnell allowed a leadoff single to Ian Desmond, then rebounded to retire LaRoche on a pop-up before striking out Rendon. But he walked Danny Espinosa on a close pitch, setting the stage for Span's tying double.
"You never like to lose Opening Day," manager Terry Collins said. "In the last couple of years, we've won Opening Day. But this is one game out of 162. You've got to remember that."