David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
KANSAS CITY, Mo.
With a winter to stew over the World Series loss and a five-month wait for the rematch, what transpired Opening Night at Kauffman Stadium was, above all else, a disappointment for the Mets.
From the Royals’ banner-raising to the Yoenis Cespedes drop to David Wright’s two costly strikeouts, this wound up being a bummer way for the Mets to begin their National League title defense, with a 4-3 loss that looked uncomfortably like the end of last season.
But there’s also a few positive nuggets to sift through in preparation for today’s back end of this two-game series, not the least of which is Noah Syndergaard taking the mound. So before fans get too morose over Game 1 of 162, let’s take a look at some things that actually went right for the Mets, with a longer view toward the next six months.
1. Fast start for Conforto. The Mets have placed so much on Michael Conforto’s young shoulders, it’s easy to forget he just turned 23 last month. Or that a year ago at this time, he was playing for Class A St. Lucie. But Conforto, getting his first taste of Opening Day in the majors, reached base in all four plate appearances with two walks, a single and a double.
Terry Collins chose to use Conforto at DH, going with what he thought was a better defensive alignment of Cespedes in left and Juan Lagares in center. That plan may have backfired, but Conforto settled in quickly at the plate. According to Inside Edge, Conforto ended a string of 82 plate appearances without a walk — the sixth-longest active streak — before drawing another in the fourth inning.
Conforto also became the first Met to reach base four times on Opening Day since Xavier Nady in 2006 and the youngest in franchise history to do so. Not bad for a kid who admitted he had killer butterflies before Sunday’s first at-bat.
“I didn’t expect it after playing in the World Series here,” Conforto said with a smile. “But that first walk helped me relax a little bit.”
2. No more double (play) trouble. Trading Jon Niese for Neil Walker and signing Asdrubal Cabrera to that two-year, $18.5-million contract was supposed to strengthen the Mets up the middle defensively. We got a taste of that Sunday night with the new tandem twice turning big double plays, and Ca bre ra pivoting on a 3-6-1 DP, that helped limit the damage for Matt Harvey.
The Walker-Cabrera combo isn’t exactly Alomar-Vizquel in terms of range, but they are sure-handed and fully capable of making the plays that should be made. The Mets ranked 25th overall in double plays last season, a poor reflection on the shaky abilities of Daniel Murphy and a learning-on-the-fly Wilmer Flores at shortstop.
The Mets’ superior rotation still can benefit from a safety net such as solid interior defense, and Terry Collins didn’t have to hold his breath when the ball was hit to Walker with men on base Sunday night.
3. Bullish on bullpen. Harvey wasn’t in true Dark Knight form, partly because of the Royals’ pesky contact approach and partly because of his illness earlier in the week. But when Collins had to lean on the bullpen to bail him out in the sixth inning, Bartolo Colon didn’t disappoint, and neither did Jerry Blevins.
Colon is the fifth starter for now, but the Mets are banking on him to reprise his bullpen role from last year’s playoffs when Zack Wheeler is ready to return come July. On Sunday, Colon allowed one inherited run to score but stranded two in the sixth. He also pitched a perfect seventh against the top of the Royals’ order.
Blevins, who appeared in only seven games last season after reinjuring a fractured arm, kept the Mets at 4-3 by setting down Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon in the eighth. No small feat.
4. No quit at the K. Sunday night was a tough opening assignment, and the Mets, at times, were their own worst enemy. But they stuck to the plan against Edinson Volquez, driving his pitch count up early and then rallying late against Joakim Soria and the usually invincible Wade Davis. Ultimately, they fell short, but it was only Opening Night, not Game 7 of the World Series.
“It’s good to get it out of the way,” Wright said. “Hopefully, there’s better ones to come.”