David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
The Mets could talk all they want about how Thursday's 1-0 win over the Braves was just one game.
Sure. That's how the uniformed personnel are supposed to look at it.
But this team is playing for much bigger stakes this season, and every win is like another scissor kick toward shore for a franchise that currently is adrift in financial uncertainty.
After a winter's worth of Bernie Madoff baggage, high anxiety over the health of Johan Santana and the public paddling the Mets took over the defection of Jose Reyes, there is no way to understate the importance of this particular Opening Day celebration.
It began with a thoughtful remembrance of Gary Carter that stretched from the moment the Mets took the field at 9:45 a.m. until his family members threw out the first pitch shortly after 1 p.m. Each player and coach wore No. 8 Carter jerseys during batting practice and a giant replica of the KID8 patch was unveiled on the new leftfield wall. The ceremony was well- scripted and executed perfectly.
From there, the day only got better for the Mets, and how often have we said that about anything that has transpired at Citi Field in recent memory?
"It feels good to win," David Wright said, "and it feels good to win on Opening Day. But you've got to have a short memory."
In this case, though, the Mets and a frustrated fan base should be allowed to savor this one for 48 hours or so. As encouraging as Santana looked in spring training, was anyone exceedingly confident about his first major-league start in 19 months after shoulder surgery?
The Mets have dared to dream before, only to be disappointed. But Santana delivered five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out five, before giving way to pinch hitter Mike Baxter. Santana got the Mets more than halfway through their first Opening Day shutout in 14 years, threw 84 pitches without incident and couldn't stop smiling in the postgame news conference.
"I'm very happy everything has paid off," Santana said. "We had good days, bad days. Going back to what I used to be, it's a great, great feeling."
Santana is not the same Cy Young pitcher he once was, but his signature fastball-changeup mix was enough to keep a dangerous lineup off balance. Santana being Santana, however, was hardly as surprising as what the Mets' renovated bullpen was able to achieve.
Sandy Alderson made it his mission during the offseason to improve the Mets' relief corps, and after his new recruits stumbled around in spring training, it appeared that the GM would have some explaining to do. Instead, he preened on Twitter after Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak and Jon Rauch combined for three scoreless innings to set up Frank Francisco for the save.
In the first @MetsGM tweet since his dog Buddy complained about being stuck in the office back on Feb. 28, Alderson said, "Winning on Opening Day, with a day off to follow, is baseball nirvana! Great work by Johan, Ramon, Tim, John and Frank. No joke!"
What, no #humblebrag hashtag on the end of that tweet? You can blame Alderson for skimping on the bench -- or misspelling Rauch's first name -- but for this day at least, Alderson could pat himself on the back for his bullpen makeover.
To complete the day's theme of redemption and revival, who else but Wright delivered the game's only run with a hard single off Tommy Hanson in the sixth inning. That was too late to give the victory to Santana but just in time to give the paying customers an indelible Opening Day moment from the face of the franchise.
Obviously, the Mets have issues. They lost Andres Torres for an indefinite period after he aggravated his calf strain in the seventh inning. Selling tickets will remain a touchy proposition, even after the Mets announced the crowd of 42,080 was the largest ever at Citi.
"You can only sit for so long and be happy," manager Terry Collins said. "Now you've got to go back and go to work again."
But the Mets can take some satisfaction in this: Their fans seemed genuinely excited to have them back Thursday, and maybe, just maybe, it's the start of repairing the relationship.