NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Baseball is back, baby!
And the New York Mets, coming off five straight losing seasons and their second consecutive 74-88 finish, often play their best ball on opening day.
New York is 34-18 (.654) in season openers, the top mark in the majors, despite losing its first eight. The Mets have won 20 of their past 22 season openers at home.
This year that good fortune will be put to the test against the Washington Nationals and hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Strasburg at Citi Field.
After a wet weekend, the weather — including snow in parts of New York on Monday morning — cleared up by game time. The Mets honored longtime broadcaster and Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner, who died in February, with a pregame ceremony and the unveiling of a commemorative logo on the left-field wall. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threw out the first pitch to some healthy boos.
“It’s not a lie when I tell you the night before Opening Day, you don’t sleep,” Mets captain David Wright said, according to the team’s official website. “Leading up to it, you get these butterflies. You try your best to try to calm your emotions and not get caught up in it, but it’s impossible. Once you get out there, the adrenaline starts pumping, your heart starts beating, and it’s pretty special.”
Dillon Gee was not their first choice to pitch, but durability makes a difference. All-Star ace Matt Harvey is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery and left-hander Jonathon Niese was slowed by back, triceps and elbow trouble in what he called “the spring training from hell.”
Niese begins the season on the disabled list but is penciled in to start Sunday against Cincinnati.
“I hope my career isn’t just reflected on how many opening day starts I have,” Gee said. “There are a lot of guys, even in this rotation, who deserve it. I’m just the first one out. I’d definitely want to focus on making starts in the playoffs.”
Not that Gee lacksany credentials.
The gutsy right-hander had a 2.71 ERA during the final four months last season to finish 12-11 with a 3.62 ERA after almost losing his spot in the rotation. He followed that up with a 1.08 ERA in four starts this spring, including six hitless innings against Houston in his final tuneup.
“If our players perform like we know they can, we’ll be fine. If we get that special season from someone, we’ll be better than fine,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Gee is facing a dangerous lineup that features Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Anthony Rendon takes over at second base, and Adam LaRoche hopes for a bounce-back season at first.
“I think everybody’s confident going into the season. I think it should be a good year for us,” said Strasburg, ready to start his third opener in a row for Washington after going 8-9 with 3.00 ERA last season.
The top pick in the 2009 draft, Strasburg had an October operation for bone chips in his surgically repaired right elbow and spent much of the spring working on a slider to go with his 95-98 mph heat.
He opposes David Wright and a Mets lineup boosted by the addition of free-agent outfielder Curtis Granderson. But there are major question marks at shortstop (Ruben Tejada) and first base, where Ike Davis and Lucas Duda were limited by leg injuries this spring.
“We think we’ve added some talent to this team,” Collins said. “We think 2014 is going to be a good year for us. We’ve got some guys. Now it’s time for them to step up and show everybody that they are true major league players and can compete at this level.”
Mets fans who have faced more than their share of heartbreak said they’re hopeful for the 2014 season.
“With the Mets, that’s basically it. It’s the first game where we could actually win the whole thing and, you know, they are actually pretty good at winning that first game. It’s the other 161 they’re not so — its a little tough,” Mets fan Jose Rivadeniera told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown while he was tailgating before the first pitch. “This year, we’re gonna win it for Ralph, of course. And like our GM said, 90 wins or bust.”
“It’s opening day! Rain can’t stop us. Let’s go Mets, baby!” Carlos Anderson added.
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