David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
| KANSAS CITY, Mo.
Other than the gold-lettered jerseys and caps, signifying their championship pedigree, on Opening Night at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals looked pretty much how we remembered them. Airtight defense. Timely, well-placed hitting. The same formula they used to get to the World Series twice, and of course, win it last year.
The Mets reprised their October role, too. And we all know how that turned out. After Sunday night’s 4-3 loss, in which the Mets stranded the tying run at third in the ninth inning, they wore a similar disappointment.See alsoBoxscore: Mets-Royals on Opening NightInteractiveMeet the 2016 Mets
Not to the same degree, obviously. But they knew they again were so close to beating the Royals, yet still not good enough.
The difference? Something as simple as Yoenis Cespedes failing to squeeze his glove enough to catch Mike Moustakas’ first-inning fly ball, which set up an unearned run that gave the Royals a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
That was the margin between these two World Series combatants, just as it was in October. And as strange as it felt for the Mets to return to Kauffman Stadium for Opening Night, seeing another screw-up in leftfield brought back memories of the Game 1 mishap between Cespedes and Michael Conforto, a blunder that resulted in Alcides Escobar’s leadoff inside-the-park homer.
“We know they’re tough to beat,” Terry Collins said. “You can’t give them runs.”
No kidding. It had to be doubly painful that Cespedes, who’s earning $27.5 million this season, was the author of this early disaster.
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Sandy Alderson were in the clubhouse afterward, understandably irritated by dropping a close one, even the first of 162.
Cespedes hadn’t cooled off much, either, by the time a group of reporters circled his locker. Through an interpreter, his answers were short. He wasn’t in the mood for lengthy explanations. “The ball just fell out of my glove,” he said. “I’m human.”
But those mistakes can’t be made against the Royals, and that play felt like a tone-setter for the evening. Cespedes appeared to have a decent track on the ball, then reached up for what should have been a fairly routine grab. It was in the palm of his mitt for a moment, then suddenly squirted free.
“Errors happen,” Harvey said. “It’s part of the game.”
That was only Harvey’s second batter of the season, and he followed with one of his two walks, this time to Lorenzo Cain. Eric Hosmer then slapped a run-scoring bouncer through the shortstop hole that had to further annoy Harvey.
The strange part is, the Mets thought they were protecting themselves by starting former Gold Glover Juan Lagares in centerfield and Cespedes in left. When the Mets acquired Cespedes last July, they did so with the realization that using him in center would be a calculated risk. He could do it, but he was better suited for left.
So just when the Mets were trying to expel the bad memories, they got burned in almost the same spot as Game 1 of the World Series here.
To see the Royals take the lead in this fashion — again — was uncanny. After days of talking about the need to move past their World Series failures, the Mets immediately began reliving them. The lesson here? It’s easier said than done, and especially when the Royals are involved.
“They’re scrappy, and we know that,” David Wright said. “They were the last team we played last year.”
We assumed the Mets wouldn’t pick up where they left off. The up-the-middle defense certainly looked sharper with the new double-play combo of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker. Also, Harvey was mostly Harvey, limiting the Royals to a handful of hard-hit balls.
The Mets even rallied late against the Royals’ vaunted bullpen, scoring three runs against Joaquin Soria in the eighth. They had the tying run on third in the ninth with only one out, but Wade Davis got Wright looking and Cespedes swinging to end it. There would be no redemption this night. For him or the Mets.
“This would have been a nice one to take,” Wright said. “Hopefully there’s better ones to come.”
In many ways, this did feel like a continuation of the World Series, because we had seen it all before. Fortunately for the Mets, this time they still have 161 games to play.