This is Part 2 of 2 of our excerpt from the new book, Mets in 10s: Best and Worst of an Amazin’ History by Brian Wright and from Arcadia Publishing, due out April 9. Opening Day is today at Citi Field, and here are the Top 5 Amazin’ Opening Days in Mets history.
Sharing era and stature engendered frequent comparisons between the reticent “Lefty” and right-handed Tom Seaver. The Hall of Fame pair combined for 640 wins, over 7,700 strikeouts and seven Cy Youngs.
With ace status on their respective clubs well founded, these two locked horns on Opening Day five times—and three straight beginning in 1973.
Carlton-Seaver III saw each live up to their criteria—trading punchouts and faultless frames.
Neither starter would dare let a reliever settle this 1–1 tie. Seaver held up his end in the top half—stranding Greg Luzinski at second. Carlton was proffered an opportunity to match, but the Mets beat him to the punch.
It takes longer for hitters to get in regular season rhythm than it does for pitchers. Or so they say.
For the ’88 Mets, their adjustment period lasted a little more than an inning.
With bats blazing, New York’s six home runs set what would be—at the time—a club record for the most in a single game and the most by any team on Opening Day in a 10–6 victory over the Montreal Expos.
Of all the home runs, Strawberry’s second captured the greatest attention—a titanic moonshot that could barely be contained by Olympic Stadium and might have cleared customs if not for the roof.
Dwight Gooden didn’t pitch like his dominating self. Fortunately, he didn’t need to. Even though Gooden gave up four runs and eleven hits over five innings and seventy-four pitches, the victory was his.
Considering his situation at this time a year ago—suspended and in drug rehab—he couldn’t possibly complain about it.
This isn’t simply the most significant season-opening comeback. This ranks among the best comebacks ever made at any point in any Mets season.
Yet no rally is official without digging oneself a giant hole to climb out of.
For New York, that abyss was six runs.
But 6–0 through three-and-a-half innings soon became 6–2 on the strength of a home run by Todd Hundley—the first of what would eventuate into a team-record forty-one. Bernard Gilkey, a wearer of Cardinal red as recently as the previous September, gave his new team a boost with a long ball that kicked off his most productive year.
St. Louis pointed toward a seventh-inning response, but Royce Clayton’s attempt to score was foiled when rookie fielding prodigy Rey Ordonez miraculously threw him out from his knees in shallow left field.
Ordonez then got his first big-league hit in the bottom half, the beginning of four consecutive Met singles. This fashioned a four-run inning and a 7–6 advantage—which John Franco preserved with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Tom Seaver returned to familiar grounds with six shutout innings against the Phillies.
The dawning of each season brings about familiar names and new faces. Tom Seaver was both.
In the wake of a contentious breakup and a five-and-a-half-year Cincinnati hiatus, “The Franchise” returned to the team he made famous—and vice versa.
Making his record fifteenth Opening Day start (and eleventh as a Met), Seaver took on Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies. In other words, just like old times.
No louder was the sellout crowd than on two occasions: when Seaver walked in from the bullpen prior to first pitch and when he struck out leadoff batter Pete Rose.
A beautiful, sunny Shea afternoon agreed with the delightful presence of No. 41 back where he belonged, performing at the level his fans were comfortable witnessing.
One tiny detail proved elusive.
With Carlton matching zeros against his long-standing rival, Seaver departed after six entrenched in a scoreless tie—relegated to a no-decision despite allowing three hits and one walk. But the Mets belatedly pushed through for a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh—the first on a Mike Howard single and the second on a Brian Giles sacrifice fly.
Doug Sisk’s three effective innings in relief would polish off the shutout. His win, though, registered small typeface in deference to the day’s headline.
Contrary to Thomas’s Wolfe’s famous book, you can go home again.
The fond expectancy that materializes with Opening Day was never higher. Fresh from a ninety-win season, the Mets possessed a roster featuring the previous two Rookie of the Year recipients coupled with a veteran leader commanding first base. And now, through an offseason deal, they obtained baseball’s premier catcher.
The validation of Gary Carter—plucked from the Montreal Expos—was hardly questioned. But for some who wondered how it would affect team chemistry, those thoughts dissolved once he ended his inaugural Mets chapter with an extra-inning, walk-off homer to beat the St. Louis Cardinals.
A fabled conclusion was preceded by a back-and-forth duel to predate an National League East pennant race that would take on a similar seesaw complexion for the duration of the season.
The plate discipline of New York hurt Joaquín Andújar as much as Flushing’s cold and wind. St. Louis’ starter was touched up for two hits, two walks and a pair of first-inning runs.
Dwight Gooden also found warming up problematic. He allowed the Cards to answer with single runs in the second and third. New York countered by scoring once in three straight innings and clung to the lead through Doc’s departure during a two-run St. Louis seventh.
All it did, though, was set the stage for the brand-new Met to provide tenth-inning heroics against a former one.
“Excited. Ecstatic. Enthusiastic,” said Carter. “I wanted to do well today. I wanted to impress. If I had fantasized about my first game, it couldn’t have been any better than this.”
It was more than a 6–5 victory. It confirmed the winning ways were here to stay and the best days were on deck.