by Paul West
It was almost a demoralizing day for the New York Mets.
After starting the season winning two of three in Washington then sweeping three in Miami–capped with yet another epic performance from defending Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom–they were on the wrong end of a short-rest shutout in their home opener, and looked on the brink of squandering an eight-strikeout start by Steven Matz and letting the Nationals build momentum.
Instead, they came back in thrilling fashion, using both the long ball and small ball to eke out a 6-5 win. A three-run eighth inning rally went as follows: Peter Alonso extended his arms to drive an inside-out line laser beam onto the landing area next to Citi Field’s apple (his first Citi Field home run); Robinson Cano yanked a 3-2 pitch to Shea Bridge (his first Citi Field home run); Michael Conforto ripped an exuberantly celebrated double into right field; and Keon Broxton stayed back on a 2-2 breaking pitch and lined an inside-out single to right for what would be the winning run.
You read ‘inside-out’ twice, and it was by design. The 2019 Mets seem to be in the habit of using the entire field when they hit, and it’s paying dividends. This, along with the additions of Cano, Broxton, Alonso, and JD Davis–who hit two out of a suddenly homer-friendly home park today–has contributed to a 6-2 start, and an early spot at the top of the NL East.
Don’t let anyone tell you April games don’t count. When you win or lose a division by one or two games, on paper it’s as much these early season nailbiters as any win or loss down the stretch. Granted, the stretch run is deemed important for a reason; granted, late summer games carry a higher degree of pressure and a brighter spotlight. Granted, the Mets began last season 11-1 before spending the middle third of the season in quicksand.
That doesn’t make this April 6th comeback any less important.
Tomorrow, the Mets face Max Scherzer knowing that even if they lose, they’ll end the day in at least a tie for first and the Nationals will end the day at .500. They’ll have a strong start on their divisional record, and a strong start in their head-to-head record against one of the teams they’ll battle for the next few months. Had they lost, the pressure would have shifted to them entirely: the pressure to avoid being swept by a rival in their opening home series, intensified by the echoes of last year’s collapse along with other narratives which have dogged the franchise. Even more immense would have been the pressure on Zack Wheeler–who seemed to finally find himself on the mound last year, but opened this year with a loss to these same Nationals.
Instead, they’re closer to playing with the proverbial house money while their opponent looks to change its luck.
All games may not feel the same or be covered the same, but they all count the same. If the Mets remain in contention, this was an early signpost.