WASHINGTON — Before Pete Alonso and the other position players who clearly had won roster spots found out officially that they had won roster spots, manager Mickey Callaway decided to prank them.
It was Wednesday, the day before Opening Day and Alonso’s 1-for-4 major-league debut in a 2-0 win over the Nationals. The Mets were taking batting practice at Nationals Park. Callaway rejiggered the BP groups to put the unknowing job-winners together: Alonso, Dominic Smith, Luis Guillorme, J.D. Davis and Tomas Nido.
“I threw BP to them and we had the whole team come up,” Callaway said. “I told them, ‘Hey, look, sorry I had to mess up the BP groups today, but the flights to Syracuse leave at 4 p.m.’ I said, ‘Fortunately, none of these guys that just hit are on it.’ I think I scared them a little bit.”
Said Alonso: “It was not cool at first. But it was kind of a funny joke. But it was really cool.”
He got “misty-eyed” upon learning the news. “Everyone was like, ‘Don’t cry, Pete!’ ” Alonso said. “I was wearing sunglasses at the time, thankfully. I was beyond excited. I can’t really explain it in words. It’s the most incredible feeling in the world.”
Callaway got a kick out of Alonso’s reaction. “The best way I could describe it is I’ve never seen this look before,” Callaway said. “He’s so humble, he truly didn’t understand he was on the team. Until we told him.”
With Alonso and Smith both on the roster, Callaway strongly indicated that Alonso will receive the majority of the starts, in part because he is a righthanded power hitter. Smith bats lefthanded and the Mets already have a lot of lefty hitters.
Alonso took his first turn Thursday, batting second and drawing the particularly tough assignment of facing Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner.
The first pitch he saw was a strike on the outside edge of the plate. He whiffed.
“Honestly, anything that looked kind of close, I was going to take a big ol’ hack at that first pitch,” Alonso said.
He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Scherzer. Facing reliever Justin Miller in the eighth, Alonso dunked a single into center. It was a gorilla — not a monkey, but a gorilla — off his back, he said.
“Face a guy [Scherzer] of that high quality, it lets you know where you’re at real quick,” Alonso said. “It was really special. I felt like I was walking on clouds up there. That was the most excited I’ve ever been to play a baseball game before. It’s unbelievable.”
Is it hard to play a game when you feel that way?
“Honestly, the game went by so fast, I can’t even remember,” Alonso said. “I wish I could tell you.”
The Mets are 38-20 in season openers in their history, an MLB-best .655 winning percentage . . . Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton will mostly split time in centerfield when Brandon Nimmo is in left, Callaway said . . . Smith earned praise from Callaway for his pinch-hit walk in the eighth, which helped get Scherzer out of the game and eventually doubled the Mets’ lead. If Smith doesn’t walk there, Callaway said, “it’s a totally different story.” . . . Callaway said he didn’t even think during the game about how the Nationals are sans Bryce Harper. “That was a little different, now that you say it,” he said. “I didn’t think of it at the time because they still have such a talented team.”