Johan Santana's Open Day numbers: 6 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, 103 pitches, 69 for strikes. (Getty Images)
White plastic bags floated over the immaculate grass. Plumes of dust swirled over the outfield warning track. Some players had to stuff stray empty water bottles into their back pockets to safely field their positions.
If the sun, wind and flying debris that buffeted Citi Field on Monday were a symbolic reverberation from the Mets’ draining 70-92 campaign last season, their steely and triumphant response — a 7-1 victory over Florida before a sellout crowd of 41,245 — was a fine way to turn the page. Or at least to begin turning the page.
“We got out the gate, but we haven’t gone anywhere,” said manager Jerry Manuel, who will start John Maine against the Marlins on Wednesday. “We’re trying to figure some things out and win at the same time.”
For one blustery day without injured starters Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy, Manuel’s plan worked.
Subbing for Beltran in center, Gary Matthews Jr. scored two runs and called off his teammates to field several drifting fly balls — sometimes with a bottle in his back pocket.
Johan Santana banished memories of his 6.75 spring training ERA with a sturdy six-inning performance that began with six straight batters retired.
“He went out and did what aces do,” said Matthews, one of several Mets to provide the timely hits that nailed down Santana’s victory.
Catcher Rod Barajas, who doubled in Matthews during a four-run sixth inning, called the off-speed pitch Santana had going yesterday “as good a changeup as I’ve ever seen.”
The Mets’ fifth straight Opening Day victory gave the team and its ardent fans a positive beginning. What’s left to sort out are the middle and end.