David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
If the Mets taught us anything by last year’s improbable romp to the National League title, it was their ability to thrive amidst the chaos, to block out the noise, to not sweat whatever stuff came along, big or small.
Based on what happened to them Tuesday night, in the hours leading up to the season’s first skirmish with the Nationals, that should be a helpful trait again this year, because harrowing plot twists are as much a part of the Citi Field landscape as the Home Run Apple and the Shea Bridge.
The day began with Sandy Alderson informing us of a second cancer-related surgery that he described as “fantastically successful.” The second part was great to hear, but it’s hard for the Mets not to worry, given the gravity of his illness.StoryWright, Duda sidelined by bad backsStorySandy Alderson says he had second cancer surgeryStoryAlderson not worried about deGrom
And that was only the beginning. As everyone began to absorb Alderson’s revelation, Terry Collins followed up with Lucas Duda being held out of the lineup with a back issue. Not long after, David Wright was scratched during batting practice, another red flag as concern grows over his daily battle with spinal stenosis.
What else could possibly go sideways? This was supposed to be the day for the Mets to get back on track, to rinse away the 4-7 western trip, to reboot against the first-place Nats. And now that was going to happen with the newly recalled Matt Reynolds subbing for Wright and Eric Campbell filling in for Duda?
Yeah, pretty much.
The reason for that, more or less, was the indomitable presence of Noah Syndergaard, who barely let the Nationals breathe in striking out 10 over seven scoreless innings. Mix in Curtis Granderson hitting Max Scherzer’s opening pitch off the Honda sign in rightfield, along with Michael Conforto going deep, and the Mets responded to the early gut check with a satisfying 2-0 victory.
“You’ve got to be resilient,” Collins said. “This is a strange game. You never know what’s going to happen. It always helps when you’ve got a horse you can ride on the mound, and a couple guys stepped up.”
Old pal Daniel Murphy had the potential to be another headache in his Citi return, by picking at the scab left by the Mets’ winter snub. But Alderson made a special trip over to the Nats clubhouse before the game to deliver Murphy’s NL championship ring, and later thanked him publicly.
“We made it clear to Murph that without his substantial contributions, none of us would be wearing that ring today,” Alderson said. “I think it’s turned out well for him, I think it’s turned out well for us.”
The Citi crowd of 36,701 followed the GM’s lead on that, greeting Murphy’s first at-bat with a well-deserved standing ovation. Subsequently, Murphy was booed every time he showed up at the plate. Not as loudly as Bryce Harper, but the point was made. Thanks for the memories, Murph. You’re dead to us now.
But as much as the Mets appreciated the chance to exhale after Tuesday night’s win, some of those pregame brush fires still are smoldering. Wright’s back condition, which seemed to be relatively stable for the first six weeks, may have degenerated into a more problematic phase.
“This is the first time this year I’ve come to the ballpark and felt like I felt,” Wright said. “It’s been mostly mediocre. This time it was more toward the bad.”
Those were sobering words from the captain’s corner of the Mets clubhouse. Down at the other end, Syndergaard had just finished talking about his dismantling of the Nats. A few lockers away, Conforto beamed as he discussed denting an ace like Scherzer. The Mets can only focus on moving forward, leaving all that other stuff in their wake.
“I think we have faith in the guys that are going to step in,” Conforto said. “This is the way we wanted to start out against them.”
As far as the Nationals are concerned, it’s one down, 18 more to go.