11.4.05

New Mets Are Virgins No More

It took them six games to do it but the 2005 New Mets finally won their first game of the season, calming the critics, halting the hyperventilating and bashing the hated Atlanta Braves at Turner Field all in one wonderful afternoon.

Although the final score was 6-1, for the first 7 innings there was every indication that this would be another trademark Met loss in what was swiftly becoming the most disappointing season in recent memory. Sure, Pedro Martinez was pitching masterfully again, dueling reformed closer John Smoltz through seven innings but still behind 1-0 even though he'd only surrendered two hits all game.

And Carlos Beltran had been struck out swinging twice by Smoltz already as the Mets entered that now famous 8th, gagging on a 1 for 12 streak at the plate in Atlanta.

And whilst Smoltz had already rung up 15 K's, a rather remarkable feat in itself considering that it tied his mark for strikeouts that he'd set 13 years before, the tension in Met fans built up inning after scoreless inning, the inevitability of doom seemed in the top of the 8th, almost ripe with potential. Coming home at 0-6 for the season was the dreadful possibility on the Met horizon, a season shattered before it began, the hype deflated to an Opening Day Shea of boos and catcalls.

But then, the other New Met, the Man the new franchise's future was being built around, arrived to do what he was purportedly being paid to do, which lead this franchise out of the Land of Mediocrity they'd dwelling in for the the last several years and onward to their future.

In the top of the 8th, after Jose Reyes singled to lead it off, the questioning of Willie Randolph reached its zenith when he elected to have Miquel Cairo bunt Reyes over one base, playing for the tying run on the road rather than the wining run. Desperate moves indeed and if it blew up in his face yet again, imagine the uproar that would greet him the following day.

Instead, with Reyes on second, one out and Smoltz having thrown 112 pitches, Carlos Beltran lifted the 113th pitch, a dramatic two run homerun to give the Mets their first lead since the 9th inning of Opening Day in Cincinnati, some 44 innings later.

And with that, the veil on this new squad was lifted and the 2005 Mets were virgins no more.

Smoltz was immediately pulled for Tom Martin and Cliff Floyd responded with a homerun to make it 3-1. Doug Mientkiewicz followed that with a blast that almost made it back to back to back homeruns but instead settled for a double, which chased Martin and brought Ramon Colon in. Colon was greeted by David Wright with a two run blast that brought the Mets ahead 5-1 and just like that, the season was saved, the floodgates were opened and all of the blundering of the last five games was forgotten and forgiven.

Ever so slightly lost in this redeeming drama was the fact that Pedro Martinez too did exactly what he was signed as a free agent from the Red Sox to do. He defeated the Braves ace in Smoltz, outdueled a possible Hall of Famer and pitched a complete game two hitter, retiring the final 16 batters he faced to earn both his and the Mets first victory of the season.

"We needed a big performance from me or someone like me. I took it personally. I wanted to pick up my team. ... Everybody was getting antsy. I like to take the responsibility." said the Mighty Pedro.

And slightly lost in this cataclysmic victory was the irony that these new Mets did it without old Met Piazza ever entering the game.

Sat out again, the second time in 6 games this season, Mike Piazza was admirably replaced by Ramon Castro and was never called upon to enter the game. Appropriate perhaps that Piazza sat in the dugout as the Mets began to define their season and Willie Randolph could smoke the victory cigar Mike had nothing to do with other than having provided the cigar to begin with.

In fact, there were three changes to the regular Mets lineup: Piazza was replaced by Castro, the Kaz Man was replaced by veteran Miquel Cairo and Victor Diaz was replaced in rightfield by Eric Valent. Those three hitters combined to go 5 for 10. In fact, through the first seven innings of the game, these three were the only Mets other than Reyes to get on base.

There were also a few hiccups and stutters again, acts of idiocy that could have been momumental had they cost the Mets the game, like fifth inning when third base coach Manny Acta put on the brakes for Jose Reyes rounding third far too late causing Reyes to be picked off.

But otherwise, the Mets were everything they were we'd hoped they'd be before this stuttering run through the first five disappointing games.

In a way, you almost wished Willie had dialed up Braden Looper's number for the top of the 9th, just so he could put the Braves down 1-2-3 and get the monkey off his back as well. Then again, with the way the Mets had started, there was no point pushing their luck. Pedro deserved the complete game shutout and perhaps tomorrow, Looper will finally get the chance to redeem himself.

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