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PHILADELPHIA — Steve Cohen already forked over a couple of billion bucks for the team, and another $341 million for a star shortstop. So Tuesday morning he may want to spend a little of what’s left over to buy fruit baskets for a few folks.
Joe Douglas, for trading his quarterback.
Kyrie Irving, for dropping 40 on the Knicks.
Maybe even Giancarlo Stanton for blasting that 971-foot grand slam back home, in New York, a blast that altered satellite transmissions.
The Mets could use all the talking points and all the distractions that littered a busy Monday in New York City — hell, we didn’t even get to the Final Four yet! — because that may be the one thing that prevents a full-blown onset of Panic City after exactly one game and nine innings.
Cohen, watching the game with his family in front of his home TV, could not have liked much of what he saw Monday, and in a parallel universe he might actually have spent the latter hours of the night calling up radio stations, Stevie from Great Neck railing about this 5-3 opening-night loss to the Phillies that cracked the team’s Closet of Anxieties and let a flood of them spill out.
“Not what we wanted,” Mets manager Luis Rojas would say. “We saw more positives than negatives even though we lost the game. We saw a lot of good things in the game.”
But there was also so much that rang uncomfortably familiar.
There was Jacob deGrom and his six solid innings, up 2-0 and cruising (his last pitch was 100 mph) but removed after just 74 pitches. This was a three-pronged thought process that may or may not have been an over-thought process: six “ups” (fancy baseball talk for innings), the fact he’d spent time running the bases (he had two hits) and the fact he hadn’t thrown in 10 days (the part that’s easiest to live with).
There was the familiar feel that permeated so often last year, games that felt like the Mets should’ve been leading 6-0 but weren’t. In the fourth, with two runs in and the bases loaded and one out Rojas could have pinch hit Dom Smith for Kevin Pillar (and inserted Albert Almora Jr. for defense); of course, Pillar could have done something else besides grounding into a rally- and inning-killing (and game-altering) 6-4-3.
There was the left-handed specialist who fail to retire the lefty against whom he is needed to specialize, Aaron Loup plunking Bryce Harper with a breaking pitch that brought in the first Phillies’ run in the cataclysmic eighth. There was the defensive specialist who threw the game away, Luis Guillorme (in for J.D. Davis) committing a throwing error that brought in two runs not long after.
And there was one last kick in the shins, Pete Alonso’s deep fly ball — which looked like it had a shot off the bat — dying in the wind and on the warning track, ending a last-ditch ninth-inning rally.
The Mets had won 39 of their previous 51 season-openers. Their problems, generally speaking, have usually waited until at least Game 2. They chose to avoid the holiday rush this time around.
“It was one of those nights,” Loup said. “That’s definitely not how you draw up your first outing of the season.”
Said Trevor May, who loaded the bases before giving way to Loup: “It was frustrating for me. I can’t imagine what it was like to watch this.”
The Mets had plenty of built-in excuses coming in. There was the four-day delay to the start of the season, which clearly affected their crispness (and even caused deGrom, normally a reluctant co-conspirator in workload management, to concede he needed to err on the side of caution with his health). Much of who they are will be an on-the-fly experiment this year, from lineups to bullpen to the manager. You saw all of that on display.
And in the same way that most of the time those past 51 years the 39 Opening Day wins didn’t necessarily guarantee anything resembling prosperity the rest of the way, there has to be belief that one dyspeptic loss doesn’t necessarily serve as a harbinger for disaster.
There were some good things — the Pillar-to-Jeff McNeil-to-Davis relay that nailed Rhys Hoskins two batters into the game was one; a gorgeous double play started by Francisco Lindor was one; a shutdown inning from Miguel Castro was one. The Mets really should be fine. They just weren’t fine in Game 1.
They need to put a padlock on that anxiety closet. There are too many rascals eager to come spilling out of there. Even this early in the season.
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