Mets win opener as usual, but with more on line
Three hours before the first pitch of a brand-new season is not the time to be Googling what a teres major is.
And yet, that’s what the anxious population of Metsville was doing Thursday (along with us media types) when the team shockingly announced that Justin Verlander had suffered a low-grade strain of the aforementioned body part, landing him on the injured list. Timetable: uncertain.
For the record, the teres major is a “thick but flattened muscle . . . that functions synergistically with the latissimus dorsi” (thanks NIH website) and located in the “upper armpit area” (hat tip to Dr. Verlander). The Mets’ co-ace assured everyone this is a “very, very minimal” injury and his absence won’t be long.
Those are both relative terms, of course. So with the first rain Florida had seen in nearly six weeks pouring outside the loanDepot park dome, the Mets played their season opener under the dark cloud of multiplying medical concerns.
Verlander was added to a March casualty list that already included the team’s All-Star closer, Edwin Diaz, and No. 4 starter, Jose Quintana.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Verlander said. “So maybe we’re getting it out of the way now.”
Optimist, huh? Forgive Verlander. He’s new here. But there was one not-so-small consolation Thursday: the Mets had their other three-time Cy Young Award winner on the mound Thursday afternoon, and Max Scherzer appeared to survive his six-inning stint with only his pride maybe a little bruised after giving up a 3-0 lead right before his exit.
Because these are the Mets, a franchise with a flair for the hard way, it took Brandon Nimmo’s tiebreaking two-run double in the seventh to finally dispose of the lowly Marlins, 5-3.
The late rally helped the Mets continue their Opening Day dominance by running their all-time record to 41-21, the best winning percentage (.661) in the majors — and that’s after dropping their first eight straight since the birth of the franchise.
As much as they’ve lost key players to this point, a pricey trio whom owner Steve Cohen spent $214 million on during the offseason, the Mets were undeterred in staying the closest MLB has to a rock-solid lock on Opening Day.
“Honestly, I tried not to even think about it,” Nimmo said of the Mets’ costly health-related hits. “It’s just another obstacle we have to overcome. We’ve already been dealt one with Diaz and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last. We just have to keep rolling with the punches.”
Cohen, the most valuable guy not in uniform Thursday, didn’t appear overly worried in spending an inning with the 7 Line Army, which dominated a dozen sections along the rightfield foul line. The Mets’ presence was the loudest at loanDepot park, with Cohen being serenaded by “Un-cle Ste-vie!” chants during his cheerleading cameo.
Verlander or no, life goes on. But having him bow out so quickly is a reminder why pitchers don’t typically stick around to age 40 or beyond, regardless of their diligent fitness regimens.
Of the two senior citizens in the Mets’ rotation, Verlander — coming off his third Cy-winning season — didn’t figure to be the first one in the MRI tube. Even the guy he replaced, Jacob deGrom, made it to the mound for his Rangers debut Thursday, which turned out to be unfortunate for Texas (3 2⁄3 innings, five earned runs).
“Not the way I wanted my Mets tenure to start,” Verlander said. “I put in a ton of work to not have things like this happen.”
Thanks to Cohen, the Mets have bookend $43 million aces, and we’ll see if Scherzer winds up being more successful at avoiding the IL after twice missing time to oblique issues that sidelined him a year ago.
Scherzer was in top form for five innings Thursday; the only hit was a single leading off the first by former AL batting champ Luis Arraez. But the Marlins smacked him hard in the sixth for a pair of doubles before Garrett Cooper swatted a 93-mph fastball over the wall in right-center.
Nimmo’s double wound up getting Scherzer the win anyway, career No. 202, and now he’s alone atop the rotation (again) with Verlander now on the IL.
“Go out there and pitch — win,” Scherzer said. “That’s all my job is. Do the best that I can, pitch as long as I can. All the other news doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t change my job, right?”
Speaking of jobs, David Robertson looked right at home in the closer’s gig, supplying a perfect ninth in the same fashion that Diaz often did, with a pair of strikeouts. The Mets grabbed Robertson on a one-year, $10 million deal to set up Diaz, not replace him. But one benefit of Cohen’s billions is buying plenty of insurance, and the Mets leaned on some of that to seal Thursday’s victory while Tylor Megill was flying back from Syracuse to take Verlander’s place in the rotation.
“It is what it is,” Robertson said. “It happens. We’ll be happy to get him back, but until then, we’ll just hold the ground.”
For the Mets, Opening Day has been almost an automatic W. But it felt as if this victory was needed more than most of those others.