One would be skeptical of the Mets’ 2013 season after another second-half collapse last year and the departure of 20-game winner and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey over the winter.
But fans created an electrifying atmosphere at Citi Field for the season opener as they watched the Mets beat the San Diego Padres 11-2, collecting 13 hits including a grand slam from newcomer Collin Cowgill.
The roster isn’t filled with household names, but the first game of the season showed that any team is capable of winning.
“The one thing we’re trying to do is establish some credibility amongst our fans,” manager Terry Collins said. “Get them excited as they were last year. But we want to finish it off this year. We want to make sure we continue to play as consistently in the second half as we do the first half.”
The stadium erupted in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs when Cowgill homered. Cowgill, who split his time last year between the Oakland Athletics and the minors while recovering from an injury, was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Mets.
“Collin Cowgill took the opportunity and ran with it,” Collins said, adding “We provide chances. Now what do you want to do with them? And certainly he got us off to a big start today.”
While the lack of stardom in the Mets’ outfield has been the punch lines of jokes throughout the off-season, Collins said about Cowgill, who went 2-5, “I’m not sure I’ve been around a guy who competes like this guy does. It is max effort in practice. It is max effort in the games.”
Also getting two hits in the game was veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd, signed as a free agent this year. When talking about thirty-five year old Byrd, Collins said “He’s got something to prove and here’s an opportunity for him to prove it,” adding that Byrd’s experience has already impacted his teammates.
John Buck has proved to be one of the most important additions to the roster. His experience behind the plate adds a much needed veteran presence on a team with a young pitching staff.
“He’s outstanding,” winning pitcher Jon Niese said. “He called a great game. He’s a veteran guy that reads hitters better than I’ve ever seen and it’s always great to have that extra mind out there that sees that and calls a game accordingly.”
Niese, filling in for injured ace Johan Santana, caused as many problems for San Diego’s pitchers as he did its batters, going 2-for-2 with a pair of singles, a walk, one run scored and a run batted in.
Making his major league debut after 14 years in the minors was 31-year-old Scott Rice whose journeyman story has captured the hearts of his teammates and coaches.
“I just hope he absorbed the whole thing. I hope he stood for a second on the mound in that wind and took a deep breath and said ‘Okay, I’m here. Now let’s have some fun with it.’ I’m real proud of him,” Collins said about Rice, who pitched a perfect ninth inning.
“I was so happy to see Scott Rice have a great outing today — that was great,” Niese said. “I’m just looking forward to playing with these guys in the future. I think we have a great group of guys.”
The Mets’ convincing victory came even without catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays along with Buck in the Dickey trade, or pitcher Zack Wheeler.
Both are considered future keys to the franchise. They are widely projected to be among baseball’s top 10 or 15 minor league prospects, and are expected to make their Met debuts this year.