Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wright Locked in, and the Duda Strikes Twice

There was a little chill in the air, but the sun was shining bright on Saturday, April 7, in Flushing, Queens. The Mets, who gave us fans something to cheer about opening day, continued their winning ways, using solid pitching, great defense and a healthy dose of power to beat the Braves, 4-2,  in front of myself, my girlfriend and 39,526 other fans.

The day didn't start out for us as smoothly as it went on opening day. We arrived without tickets and without camera about 20 minutes before the first pitch was scheduled to occur, and based on my 2011 experience I didn't think this would be a problem. My 2011 experience, however, did not include an opening weekend Saturday game, and each game day ticket window had a line that extended into the Shea parking lot. Not a nice sight to see. We got on line while I, and several other folk, checked their StubHub app to see if they were still selling some "stubs." They were not, and we reluctantly held our spots, hoping the line moved rather quickly. We made a mental note to always have tickets in hand if we plan on arriving anytime less than an 45 minutes before first pitch.

1:10 came and we were still far behind, so I MLB Gamedayed it on my phone. It was bittersweet to see the David Wright Home Run update, happy the Mets were up early but disappointed to not see it live. I wasn't going to let it ruin my day, however.

An hour after getting on line, we got to the front hoping to get seats in the sun upstairs. Those seats were not available, and we purchased standing room only seats. The thing about Citi Field is that there is a constant stream of people who walk around throughout the game, lending their seats for standing room only folk to roam like gypsies, looking for different angles of the ballpark to take on. So, when the guy at the booth offered the standing room only, I didn't hesitate.

We got inside just in time for Kirk Nieuwenhuis to make his Major League debut. I raced up the Rotunda escalator to try to view the moment, but before I could emerge from obstructed view into the field level walkway, he had struck out. Oh, well. Let's go find some seats in the sun. 

The crowd, a little more laid back than their opening day counterparts, were still extremely excited to have baseball back in their vision and of course excited to see the Mets playing sound baseball.

Here are some takeaways from the game:
  • The Mets wore their new snow-white, shadowless jerseys, and man, they are sharp. I am partial to the classic cream pinstriped jerseys, but who knows how I'll feel as the year goes on. The snow-white and the blue hat are such a good combination that they might just become my favorite jersey (thank god we won't see this hideous thing ever again on the ball field).
  • Keith Hernandez discussing how level Wright's swing is
    David Wright might finally be settling in as the leader of this team. He is extremely comfortable at the plate to begin the year, going 3-5 with a home run that would have been out last year as well (I wondered this when the update said "HR to right-center".) Even his two outs were hard hit, and it took a fantastic stab by Martin Prado on a line drive down the third base line to stop Wright from having a 4-hit day. I know he has always been a streaky hitter, but I have a feeling Wright might on his way to a fantastic campaign.
  • The Duda's first home run and hit of the year was the first to take advantage of the new right-center field fence, dropping in between the new wall and the old. His second home run was a laser, landing in the right field stands in a hurry. What a beast the Lumberjack is. The Duda.
  • RA did not have his best stuff, but the knuckle was sharp enough to induce weak contact and pull out a victory. Outside of Martin Prado's 2-run home run off an inside fastball to tie the game (which I thought was the first opposing blast aided by the new walls, but the videotape proved otherwise) RA still pitched well. Every facet of his game is so fundamentally sound. He did a great job getting his legs on either side of the plate in the first inning when Michael Bourn tried but failed to score on a sharp knuckleball that got away from Thole. RA is also not even close to an easy out at the plate, having a good idea of what he wants to do up there.
  •  "Captain Kirk" looked solid in his Major League debut. He looked over-matched in his opening strikeout, but made solid contact later in the game for his 2nd hit. His 1st one, an infield hit up the middle, might have been a present from the 1st base umpire, but he hustled down the line and if the Braves did actually get him, it was by the slimmest of margins. I'm looking forward to seeing his progress.
  • Speaking of progress, Josh Thole has so far looked like the .300 hitter we've hoped he'd be. He has always had a great short swing, and right now he has a great approach and is making solid contact. He turned on an inside fastball to plate Ike for the Mets go-ahead run in the fifth. He probably won't be a superstar, but, as Ted Berg said, he's a good "dude" to have.
  • Ike looks very uncomfortable at the plate, and he is wearing his frustration on his sleeve. They are feeding him a healthy dose of off-speed stuff and he as not been able to adjust so far. He is very argumentative with the umpires as well, and Keith brought up a good point that he is going to have to learn how to stop "moanin' and groanin'." Ike never takes his frustrations out onto the field, however, and his defense continues to be stellar.
  • Murph is such a great hitter, even when he makes outs. His fielding is looking real good as well. I never thought he was as bad as some people have made him out to be. I just thought he looked sloppy sometimes. In these first two games, the sloppiness has eluded him. Let's hope that continues.
  • Sandy Koufax was once told to stop "trying to throw the ball so hard," and after taking that advice, he had arguably the greatest 6 seasons any pitcher has ever had. I believe Koufax has paid this advice forward to Bobby Parnell. Up until this point, Parnell was a "thrower" as opposed to a "pitcher", reeling back and trying to throw the ball 100 mph every time without great command of the strike zone. Great fastball power, but hitters get used to it and can square away eventually. This spring and yesterday in his first 2012 outing, Parnell looked fantastic, having great command of his breaking pitches as well as his toned-down fastball.  Am I saying Parnell is about to go on a Koufax-like tear? No. Most likely not. And word will get around the league about the new Parnell. He is something of a veteran now, however, and he might just be mature enough to handle the adjustment everyone will eventually make.
  • The revamped bullpen sure is impressive so far this season. We have been lucky that everything has been as Sandy planned when he had that crazy 3-hour stretch during the winter meetings. Rauch's breaking stuff is real sharp right now and he is just what the 8th inning has needed. The 9th inning didn't go as smoothly for Frank Francisco as it did on Thursday, but that is to be expected and one game shouldn't spoil us. Plus, Frankie, as many closers, steps his game up with runners on (In 2011, .294 w/ bases empty, 6 HR; .189 w/ runners on, 1 HR). So far, so good, bullpen.
This is the first time since 2009 that the Mets have started the season off 2-0. At first glance, that sounds scary, but the biggest difference between now and 2009 is that we were coming off two collapses and the players out there didn't instill too much faith in us faithful, with so much deadweight surrounding the core. Yesterday, 7 of the 9 players were homegrown Mets, and throughout the ballpark, there is the feeling of hope that this franchise is finally headed in the right direction.

On the way out of the ballpark, we said, "What the heck?" and bought tickets for today's 1:10 affair. I've never been to every game of a series so I am as pumped up as I can be (but I guess I am always pumped up about baseball.) Keep the tight baseball goin', Metropolitans.


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