Memorable Opening Day Mets Games, an excerpt from the new book, Mets in 10s

Below is the first of two excerpts from Mets in 10s: Best and Worst of an Amazin’ History by Brian Wright and from Arcadia Publishing, due out April 9. With Opening Day scheduled for Thursday at Citi Field, the two excerpts will look at 10 Amazin’ Opening Days in Mets history. For updates, please follow the book on Facebook and follow Brian on Twitter and Instagram. You can pre-order on Amazon or on the Arcadia website.

10. 1989

If success in regular season premieres lent a reward, the New York Mets would reign as the hands-down holders of that trophy. Boasting thirty-six Opening Day victories as of 2017—and a winning percentage of .642—no franchise establishes a better first impression.

Neither the biting afternoon cold at Shea Stadium nor the St. Louis Cardinals did anything to change the air of optimism.

Howard Johnson, laying down the foundation for his second year of thirty home runs and thirty stolen bases, went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in and a long ball to right field—punctuating the 8–4 victory. Shortstop Kevin Elster and outfielder Darryl Strawberry each equaled “HoJo” in the hit column. Darryl doubled twice and stole two bases.

Cardinals’ starter Joe Magrane, stung for nine hits and seven runs, was put out of his misery and sent to the safety of the clubhouse after 3.2 innings.

Dwight Gooden, meanwhile, making his fourth Opening Day start since 1985, enjoyed the assurance such support brings. Gooden allowed three earned runs and struck out eight as the Mets cruised to their eighteenth win in the last twenty openers.

9. 1970

The most fascinating aspect about the Mets’ out-of-the-gate success? They lost their first eight. That included 1969—a season ending immeasurably better than it began.

As the Mets were basking in the glow of a remarkable World Championship from the previous October, they still were trying to figure out how to start 1-0. A far less majestic goal would be achieved at Forbes Field, the home of  the Pittsburgh Pirates and months from demolition.

More magic from ’69 would resurface—bookended by two noted hitting heroes.

Cleon Jones suppled the keynote, doubling off Steve Blass in the first to score Tommy Agee. Jones would complete the trip around the bases on Art Shamsky’s single to right field.

Blass settled down and relinquished one additional run, while his Bucs teammates scratched out three on Tom Seaver—who departed  after eight innings.

The 3–3 tie lasted into the eleventh, when the Mets were beneficiaries of shoddy Pittsburgh defense—as catcher Jerry May’s error allowed Ron Swoboda to reach and put runners on first and second.

A sacrifice and an intentional walk let World Series MVP Donn Clendenon show he had another big hit to spare.

The former Pirate came off the bench and delivered a single to center, bringing in the two deciding runs. Tug McGraw worked around a Roberto Clemente leadoff walk to ensure that elusive game one victory.

8. 2001

Turner Field—a house of Met horrors where aspirations shatter from the tomahawk chop. The Mets, though, marched in sporting renewed confidence rather than the usual sense of dread.

For in this latest turn of a rather imbalanced divisional rivalry, New York—as defending National League Champions—held the upper hand.

Far too often in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Atlanta’s persistent ways would grind the Mets down into defeat.

Braves stubbornness continued here—as Mike Piazza’s two-run home run greeting of Tom Glavine in the first inning was quickly answered with a one score in the bottom half against Al Leiter and another on Javier López’s seventh-inning solo blast.

Robin Ventura’s power stroke didn’t appear until the eighth, yet it was right on time. With one on, he had the enviable duty of hitting John Rocker. Of course, the Braves responded to the Robin round-tripper with a pair of runs in their next try.

Except the Mets’ self-assurance held true while Ventura stayed hot. Another two-run homer put New York ahead 6–4 in the tenth—and, at last, ahead to stay.

7. 1992

Occasionally an early statement win can serve as a prelude to the remainder of the season. But a 3–2 extra-inning Busch Stadium victory was no springboard. It would not be a portending of what lies ahead. It was just a lie.

David Cone’s eight-inning, nine-strikeout, two-hit, two-run effort nearly went for naught. Cards closer Lee Smith inched toward a 2-1 Cone loss once Daryl Boston fanned with runners on first and third to create the top of the ninth’s first out. But a grounder by slow-footed Mackey Sasser only resulted in a force out at second instead of a double play—and Howard Johnson was able to cross home plate for the equalizer.

On to the tenth, where ex-Cardinal Vince Coleman—exhibiting a rare moment of inspiration—led off with a bunt single. That heralded the Mets’ newly minted free agency gain and winter headline-maker, with his extensive contract, to earn his wealthy paycheck.

For this occasion, at least, Bobby Bonilla delivered. The third baseman cranked a homer deep down the right-field line to cap a 3-for-5 night. Lee Smith was done. So were the Cardinals.

This night went the way of Bonilla and the Mets. But little else did over the ensuing six months.

6. 1998

The Mets are no strangers to marathons—many beset by prolonged scorelesness.

Of course, facing Philadelphia’s CurtSchilling normally ruins prospects for a high-scoring afternoon. His allotment of power pitches struck out nine as New York mustered two hits in eight shutout innings.

Fortunately, the Mets’ starter showed the capacity for being equally difficult to read.

Not as imposing, but almost as dominating—Bobby Jones went six, allowed four hits and two walks. Like Schilling, he kept the Phillies off a scoreboard that was becoming laden with goose eggs.

The scoreless deadlock carried through nine and became a staunch bullpen battle. Greg McMichael, Dennis Cook, John Franco, Mel Rojas and Turk Wendell successfully passed the baton for New York. Jerry Spradlin, Billy Brewer and Mark Leiter (watched by brother Al in the other dugout) were doing the same for Philly.

In games like these, where pitching staffs and benches wear thin, an unlikely hero emerges.

Enter Alberto Castillo. The backup catcher dug in to face Ricky Bottalico as a pinch-hitter for Wendell with the bases loaded and two down. Following fourteen innings and some four and a half scoreless hours, Castillo’s walk- off single delighted—as much as it relieved—the home crowd.

Tomorrow we will count down the top five Opening Days in Mets history. You can pre-order the book on Amazon or on the Arcadia website.

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