The Mets looked different for yesterday's season opener at Citi Field, and it wasn't just the new cream-colored uniforms.
Sure, there were fresh faces in the lineup, with Jason Bay, Gary Matthews Jr. and Rod Barajas making major contributions. But even Johan Santana and David Wright barely resembled the versions of a year ago.
The result, however, was a familiar one for the Mets, the best team in baseball on Opening Day. Santana, back from elbow surgery, was a two-time Cy Young Award winner again for six innings and Wright homered in his first at-bat, but it was the all-around effort that produced a page-turning 7-1 win over the Marlins.
"You've got to start at some point," Santana said. "To get the first one out of the way was big for us."
Beneath sunny skies, the team's restless fan base could not have been happier coming off the Mets' 70-92 season in 2009. Even with Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy on the disabled list, the Mets won for the fifth straight Opening Day - the longest streak in the majors - and improved to 32-17 (.653) to maintain the best percentage on that day (32-9 after an 0-8 start). They are 18-2 in their last 20 openers in Flushing.
"There's really nothing you can say negative about us today," said Jeff Francoeur, who had two RBIs. "It was a perfect day - perfect weather, a perfect game and a perfect outcome."
Santana wasn't flawless, but he did show that his 6.75 ERA in spring training must have been a mirage by allowing one run in six innings. He gave up four hits, walked two and struck out five as he improved to 4-1 with a 3.56 ERA in six Opening Day starts.
Although that wasn't surprising, the Mets really didn't know what to expect from their new arrivals. It was all good. Matthews, who got the start over Angel Pagan, went 2-for-4 with two runs. Bay was 2-for-4 with a triple and Rod Barajas had two hits, including an RBI double. None of them experienced the physical and mental trauma of last year, but they still understood the importance of the victory.
For anyone who needed a reminder, the sellout crowd of 41,245 saved its loudest boos for the team's trainers, who were trotted out during the introductions. The Mets laughed about it at the time, but they didn't exhale until Wright sliced a 1-and-0 pitch inside the rightfield foul pole for a two-run homer.
Josh Johnson entered with a 7-0 record and 2.30 ERA in nine starts against the Mets. For Wright to make him appear mortal was a huge boost. "It was a collective sigh," Bay said. "Not just for David, but for everybody."
Santana held tightly to that 2-0 lead until the sixth, when Jorge Cantu's double made it 2-1 with two outs. But Santana stranded two by getting Ronny Paulino on a long fly to center, and the Mets worked to give their suspect bullpen a safety net with four runs in the sixth.
Bay opened with a triple into the left-center gap, and after a walk to Matthews, Francoeur hit a sacrifice fly off Clay Hensley. Matthews reached second when Hensley fired a pickoff throw over first baseman Gaby Sanchez's head and scored when Barajas launched a double over the head of centerfielder Cameron Maybin. Pagan added a pinch-hit RBI single.
When Dan Meyer flung another pickoff throw wildly, Pagan, already on his way to second, was credited with a steal and went to third on the error. Alex Cora's grounder made it 6-1. Fernando Nieve pitched two scoreless innings before Francisco Rodriguez fired a perfect ninth.
"Well, we're out of the gate, but we haven't gone anywhere," Jerry Manuel said. "We've got to continue to play good baseball."