WASHINGTON — On an Opening Day when Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer were their typically dominant selves, practically equals, the difference between the Mets and the Nationals was one big hit, one little hit and one timely throw — all from Robinson Cano.
Making his team debut as a marquee addition during Brodie Van Wagenen’s first offseason as general manager, Cano helped the Mets to a 2-0 win Thursday by going 2-for-4 with a home run, both RBIs and a critical double-play turn.
“It’s a perfect day,” Cano said. “But for me, at the end of the day, it’s not what I did. It’s the result at the end. I’m happy we won this game.”
And he had help. DeGrom struck out 10 in six innings. Edwin Diaz’s 14-pitch, three-batter, zero-drama save capped three hitless innings from the bullpen. Pete Alonso went 1-for-4 in his major-league debut. The heart of the Nationals’ order — Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman — went 0-for-11.
Van Wagenen said during morning batting practice that the start of the regular season meant he finally can enjoy all of this and relax just a little, his winter work complete. After the game he walked briskly into the Mets’ clubhouse with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, smiles spread wide.
Altogether, it is difficult to imagine a more straightforwardly successful start to the Mets’ new era.
“That’s a hell of a trade by Brodie,” said manager Mickey Callaway, also smiling, of the Cano-Diaz deal with the Mariners. “I’m proud of the boys. They did a heck of a job today.”
Cano’s performance highlights why the Mets traded for him.
“It shows the rest of the team not only how to play the game but what winning is all about,” Callaway said. “It’s doing things that you wouldn’t normally do, whether it’s taking Scherzer back up the middle for a homer, fighting off a good pitch for an RBI or making a heads-up baseball play. That’s what it takes to win, not just the standard routine plays.”
The homer came first, a fly ball to left-centerfield in the first inning. Cano was the 10th player to go deep in his first at-bat with the Mets and the first since Mike Jacobs (in his major-league debut) on Aug. 21, 2005.
With the Mets threatening in the eighth and Scherzer (7 2⁄3 innings, 12 strikeouts) freshly out of the game, Cano sent a soft line-drive single to leftfield, driving in Dominic Smith (pinch-hit walk) from second.
And then there was the third-inning double play. DeGrom was in a jam, runners at the corners with one out. Anthony Rendon sent a bouncer to Jeff McNeil at third, and Victor Robles — standing near third base — got a late break home.
After McNeil threw to second for a forceout, Cano had two options: throw to first to try to get Rendon for a double play, which would have been close, or go home to get Robles.
To Cano, there was no option. DeGrom described it as “a nonchalant throw home right on the money.” Callaway called it “an incredible heads up” and “just a baseball player doing his thing.” Cano considered it “an instinct.”
“I like to pay attention to the little details,” said Cano, explaining that he made a similar play against the Tigers toward the end of his Yankees tenure. “I knew he wasn’t expecting me to throw over to the plate. I think that’s the only chance we had.”
McNeil finished the Robles rundown with a diving tag, ending the inning. The sequence went into the books as a 5-4-2-5 double play.
“The awareness on the double play was outstanding. He’s probably the one guy in baseball that makes that play,” Callaway said. “Everybody is looking at each other like, what just happened? And then you process it and you’re like, man, that’s unbelievable.”
DeGrom, who ended up at the plate during the rundown, said: “That was nice. I was covering home there thinking, uh, I don’t know if this ball is going to get thrown to me, but I think you’re allowed to get run over at the plate. McNeil did a nice job of tagging him before he got to me.”
And Diaz, watching from the bullpen: “When I saw that play, I told the guys here, ‘We’ll win today because that was an amazing play.’ ”
Diaz was right, in large part because of Cano.
“It’s not the game I had,” Cano said. “I’m just happy we won the game and it’s a good start. That’s how you want to start as a team.”
First time, long ball
Robinson Cano became the 10th player to hit a home run in his first at-bat for the Mets.
Benny Ayala, Aug. 27, 1974 (first ML at-bat)
Mike Fitzgerald, Sept. 13, 1983 (first ML at-bat)
Rick Cerone, April 9, 1991
Jose Vizcaino, April 4, 1994
Todd Pratt, July 4, 1997
Mike Bordick, July 29, 2000
Bubba Trammell, July 30, 2000
Kazuo Matsui, April 6, 2004 (first ML at-bat)
Mike Jacobs, Aug. 21, 2005 (first ML at-bat)
Robinson Cano, March 28, 2019
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