The Brewers’ Rhys Hoskins slides into Mets second baseman Jeff...

The Brewers’ Rhys Hoskins slides into Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil during the eighth inning of an MLB game on Opening Day at Citi Field on Friday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It’s never a good sign when the highlight of your season opener is the overlong pregame introductions, when everyone from the team sous chef and soft tissue therapists — that’s plural — to returning closer Edwin Diaz and free-agent-to-be slugger Pete Alonso are greeted enthusiastically by the sellout crowd.

Or the most exciting moment is an old-time, borderline dirty hard slide into your second baseman that leads to a bench-clearing incident.

After Thursday’s rainout, the sun was shining over Citi Field on Friday and the Mets began what owner Steve Cohen called a “transition” season that he expects to end with a playoff berth.

Unfortunately for the home fans, the Mets were one-hit by the Milwaukee Brewers and lost, 3-1.

“The goal is to make the playoffs,” Cohen — nattily attired in a black Mets sweatshirt he said was one of three choices his wife picked out for him for Opening Day — said before the game. “If we don’t make the playoffs, I’ll be disappointed.”

Cohen’s optimistic view probably is shared by some Mets fans who were underwhelmed by the team’s offseason. That was until the last-minute signing of designated hitter J.D. Martinez. The Mets could have used him on Friday, as their lone hit was Starling Marte’s second-inning home run.

The Martinez signing, coming as it did on March 23, brought a hopeful vibe to Flushing. Every team with a middling roster is buoyed by the 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks, who turned an 84-win season into an NL wild-card berth and an unlikely trip to the World Series.


“Why not us?” thinks every fan base (except the ones in Oakland and Washington and a few other sad-sack baseball cities).

But as Martinez continued a multiple-at-bats-per-day crash course in Port St. Lucie, rookie manager Carlos Mendoza’s first-game lineup had Jeff McNeil batting cleanup.

The folly of having a player whom Mendoza called “a batting average guy” hitting behind Alonso became apparent when McNeil came up as the tying run with the Mets trailing 3-1 in the seventh inning.

McNeil is no home run hitter. But he proved he’s no cleanup hitter, either, when he bunted foul on the first pitch before swinging and fouling out to third base.

Martinez might not have come through in that spot, but he wouldn’t have tried to lay one down. The sooner the 36-year-old, who hit 33 home runs in only 113 games for the Dodgers last season, can get to the Mets, the better for Cohen’s postseason aspirations.

McNeil was in the middle of the game’s most controversial moment. Rhys Hoskins, a Mets nemesis from his days with the Phillies, slid hard into McNeil’s right leg as the second baseman was anchored to the bag on a forceout in the eighth.

McNeil dropped the ball on the transfer and wasn’t trying for a double play. Hoskins slid late. You don’t see that these days. That’s why it was so shocking.

Perhaps it was a nod to the late Bud Harrelson, whom the Mets honored before the game, and the hard slide he took from Pete Rose in Game 3 of the 1973 NLCS. That led to an all-out brawl at second base and is part of Harrelson’s legacy as a beloved Met (and later a Long Island icon as one of the founders of the Ducks).

One of Harrelson’s daughters, Kimberly Harrelson Psarras, was at Citi Field on Friday. She said she remembers her father coming home after the NLCS brawl.

“I remember him being banged up,” she said. “He didn’t really talk about it, but I remember him being very calm and somber about it. But you definitely could tell he was in a scuffle.”

Back to now: McNeil was immediately hot. He punched the air and gestured at Hoskins, who still was on the ground after sliding all the way through the base.

Because Hoskins maintained contact with the bag, umpires ruled he did not commit a “slide-rule violation,” and Mendoza accepted that assessment after the game.

“Jeff didn’t like it, but it’s legal,” Mendoza said. “He held on to the base and it’s considered legal.”

McNeil, in the moment, clearly did not agree. As he continued to jaw at Hoskins, the benches emptied and relievers stepped a few toes out of the bullpens. McNeil was held back by an umpire and then Mendoza, but everyone else kept their cool.

As McNeil continued to yell at Hoskins, the new Brewers first baseman made a crying gesture with his hands and yelled “Waaaaah!” at McNeil.

You don’t see that a lot these days, or any days, really.

McNeil said he wasn’t bothered by Hoskins’ dugout antics. Of the slide, he said it was “definitely not OK,” and Mets players agreed.

“He slid through the bag, but it was a little late,” Francisco Lindor said. “Jeff has every right to be upset, and we’ll back him up.”

McNeil said he doesn’t expect or want there to be any retaliation by the Mets against Hoskins.

“I don’t want this to be something,” McNeil said. “I just want to go out and play baseball and try to win the series.”

One game down, 161 to go, in the daily drama that is a baseball season. Buckle up, Mets fans.


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