By Brad Kallet
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Win or lose, opening day is the best day of the year, and it didn’t disappoint for Mets fans on Monday.
The Amazins’ looked terrific in a 6-0 victory over the Braves, and appear primed to jump out of the gate due to a favorable, NL East-heavy schedule.
I was on hand at Citi Field for the first of 162, and instead of sitting in the press box, I found a seat about 15 rows up behind Atlanta’s dugout, between home plate and third base. Here are some of my observations after watching this team play a meaningful game up close and personal for the first time in over six months.
MORE: PHOTOS: Mets Opening Day
There’s a new kind of excitement at Citi Field
It’s not quite as loud as Shea Stadium was, but the ballpark was electric on Monday. After two consecutive playoff appearances, fans are pumped up and extra hungry. There wasn’t a lot of cynicism in the crowd, nor were there the inevitable complaints, like it’s just a matter of time before the team blows it. This is largely the same group as last year, and many of these players have been Mets for several years now. The fans have come to love this team, and the energy in the stadium was palpable.
When Yoenis Cespedes comes to the plate, the park stops
For my money, no slugger since Mike Piazza has drawn the stadium into a frenzy as much as Cespedes does when he steps up to the dish — and that includes Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and even David Wright. There’s an eruption when he exits the dugout for the batter’s box, with fans just waiting for him to get a hold of one. They hang on every pitch, and one of the loudest moments of the afternoon was in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Cespedes flew out deep to center field.
Noah Syndergaard is every bit as dominant as we’ve made him out to be
The headline right now is that he left the game prematurely, after the sixth inning, and his next start was pushed back a day because of a blister on his right hand. But on the mound, he was utterly spectacular.
Thor needed just 86 pitches to get through six scoreless innings. He allowed just five hits, struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk. Syndergaard was economical with his pitch count, his command was pinpoint and he got strikeouts when he sorely needed them. Twice he found himself in dicey situations, with a runner on third and less than two outs and the cleanup hitter coming up. Both times he bore down, and struck out Matt Kemp swinging. Impressive. Let’s hope that his blister is as minor as it’s believed to be.
After Cespedes and Syndergaard, Colon was the most popular player on the field
Just kidding. The lovable 43-year-old, now with the Braves after three memorable seasons with the Mets, did get a huge hand when he was announced before the game, though. It was well-deserved. He was an excellent Met who routinely defied expectations. He’ll be missed in Queens. Good luck, Bart, except when you’re pitching against the Mets.
Jose Reyes still has a cannon at third base
I had a tremendous view of No. 7 and, dare I say it, I had as much confidence in his fielding ability on Monday as I did in 2006. Granted, he doesn’t have the range that he once did, but no longer at shortstop, he doesn’t need to. He still has a strong, accurate arm, smooth hands and lightning-quick instincts. He can more than handle the position.
Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce produced at the bottom of the lineup
I’m not sure how much sense it makes for manager Terry Collins to hit Bruce and Duda, carbon copies of each other, back to back. They strike fear in opposing pitchers because of their tremendous power, but they’re awfully streaky, they struggle against lefties and they strike out too much. Neither man went deep on Monday, but each contributed. Duda drew a walk and hit an opposite-field double — off lefty Eric O’Flaherty, mind you — with the bases loaded that scored three and broke the game open. Bruce didn’t get a hit, but he worked some great at-bats, walking three times (one of which was against O’Flaherty, bringing in a run). If these guys are patient, especially against left-handers, they’ll really lengthen the lineup.
David Wright was missed
Not his play, necessarily, but rather his presence. The captain was in the building, but he didn’t start a Mets opener for the first time since 2004. To put into context how incredible that is, Ty Wigginton started at the hot corner for manager Art Howe that year.
Wright isn’t close to the player he once was, and he more than likely never will be again. As I’ve written many times before in this space, the club is actually better off with Reyes taking over. Still, there was something missing at Citi Field on Monday. Wright is one of the most important players in franchise history, and it’s starting to feel like the beginning of the end of an era. Ironically, considering all the lean years of the past decade, that’s not nearly as troubling as it is sad.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet