Gary Matthews Jr., right, went 2-for-4 and survived a difficult...

Gary Matthews Jr., right, went 2-for-4 and survived a difficult day in centerfield in his Mets debut. (Apr. 5, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

The decision to start Gary Matthews Jr. over Angel Pagan in yesterday's opener was a bit of a surprise, considering that Pagan had played so well as a fill-in last season and the signing of Matthews in January figured to be more of an insurance policy.

But Matthews helped make Jerry Manuel look smart on Opening Day by chipping in at the plate and also surviving the elements in what was a treacherous centerfield.

The Marlins' Cameron Maybin struggled all day with the strong wind and bright sun and misplayed two balls hit by Rod Barajas, one of which soared over his head for an RBI double. But Matthews made eight catches in various parts of Citi Field's spacious outfield, and said each fly ball behaved differently from the one before it.

With the wind whipping up dirt from the warning track and blowing trash onto the field, Matthews had to adjust to a ballpark that hardly was home for him. The first time he set foot in Citi Field was for Sunday's workout, and there was no wind at all that day.

"It definitely was an adventure out there," Matthews said. "There was a little bit of everything. And it seemed like every time a ball went up, I had to go get it."

Matthews said he played about five to 10 steps deeper than usual in order to give himself some margin for error. The most difficult catch he had to make was at the most crucial part of the game. With two on and two outs in the sixth inning, Matthews had to chase down a 395-foot fly ball hit by Ronny Paulino for the final out.

"I thought he did an excellent job out there," Manuel said. "He called some people off, he played in both gaps. I think he's very excited about trying to prove that he's a guy that plays at a high level - and he played at that level today."


More lineup changes

Mike Jacobs went 0-for-4 before he was replaced by Fernando Tatis for the eighth inning - presumably for defensive purposes - but Manuel plans to go back to Jacobs in the No. 4 hole for tomorrow's game against the Marlins. On Thursday, however, Manuel said he would like to start Tatis at first base and 20-year-old rookie Ruben Tejada at shortstop against Florida lefthander Nate Robertson.

"I will try to get Tatis and Tejada a shot," Manuel said. "I would like to get everybody involved in the season this first week. If I can do that, I kind of feel confident and comfortable I can expect some good things from them."


Tight squeeze

Alex Cora thought it was a perfect time for a squeeze play with Angel Pagan at third base in the sixth inning. "Momentum was a big part of it," Cora said. "They just threw the ball away. It was a good spot." Cora got a fastball down-and-away and did all he could to make contact, but it went foul. He wound up driving in Pagan with a groundout anyway . . . Jeff Francoeur had only one catch in rightfield but made two plays on wind-blown beach balls, booting a few into foul territory. "It was like Punt, Pass and Kick out there," Francoeur said.


Reyes report

Jose Reyes went 1-for-3 with a single, a run scored and two stolen bases in an extended spring game in Port St. Lucie. He played four innings at shortstop.

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months