opening day

Welcome to MLB Season that Starts in the Heart of the Pennant Race

By Scott Mandel

Typically, when a major league baseball season gets to game 102, leaving only 60 games remaining to the season, we have gotten through the All-Star break in the second week of July and we are bearing down on the dog days of August. For those teams still in the pennant race, the high-pressure games of down-the-stretch baseball are about to begin.

Here, in 2020, with the condensed schedule of only 60 games instead of 162, all 30 major league teams are officially in a pennant race, with every game remaining having the impact of almost three games. If a team goes on a short losing streak while division opponents are winning games, the distance they fall behind, with fewer games remaining, puts increased pressure on every game and every pitch.

Welcome to the pennant race, from beginning to end of this unique season.

Opening day started yesterday with a Yankee win as their $324 million free agent ace, Gerrit Cole, earned part of his $36 million annual salary (pro-rated to reflect the shortened season), throwing five innings and allowing one hit and one run against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, in D.C. as the Bronx Bombers defeated Max Scherzer and the Nats, 4-1. In front of an empty stadium, but a huge television audience, the distinguished Dr. Anthony Fauci was unable to distinguish himself as the opening day pitcher of the First Pitch. The 79-year old Fauci, who was a high school basketball star in New York City, just missed throwing a strike by about 30 feet, with his pitch landing somewhere near the first base foul line.

Today, in front of a small crowd of smiling cardboard season ticket holders at Citi Field in New York, Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner, threw another gem against the Atlanta Braves, allowing one hit in five innings while striking out eight Braves batters. He left the game but watched Cespedes hit a solo home run in the seventh inning as the Mets shut out the Braves, 1-0.

It sure didn’t take much time for Yoenis Cespedes to swing right into a DH role in his long-awaited return.

Cespedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent deGrom and the Mets past the Braves in their season opener Friday.

After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.

“I’m very excited. It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Cespedes said though a translator. “I don’t have words for a situation like that.”

“It proved to me that I can still be the same player that I used to be,” he added.

The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.

“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s such a presence.”

Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes even if left field presents a problem.

“The funny thing was I joked with him before the game, I said, `Why are you hitting for me?” deGrom said. “Really happy for him.”

With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.

“They erupted. They went crazy,” rookie manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously, it’s a big moment for Ces. He’s been waiting.”

Seth Lugo (1-0) tossed two innings, pitching out of trouble in the seventh, and Justin Wilson whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner in scoring position to end the eighth.

Edwin Diaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving the 38-year-old Rojas a victory in his debut.

Afterward, he got a game ball from his players and a celebratory shower that Rojas said was beginning to make his uniform stink.

“I don’t know what they threw on me, but they threw a lot of stuff,” Rojas said.

Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.

Notes:

The cardboard cutout photos occupying some seats included one of former Braves star and Mets nemesis Chipper Jones.

FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR

The Mets improved to 39-20 in openers (despite losing their first eight), the best opening day winning percentage in the majors. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 — and 23 of the past 26 at home.

SENDING A MESSAGE

Both teams wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts for batting practice and joined in holding a long, black ribbon on the field during a pregame message on the video board from many Black major leaguers about eradicating racial injustice.

PREGAME CEREMONIES

The national anthem was performed virtually on the video board by essential workers, each singing their part, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “Let’s play ball!” It appeared all players on the field stood for the anthem.

MONEY MAN

Because he didn’t begin the season on the IL with a foot injury, Cespedes’ salary rose from $2,222,222 prorated ($6 million before the schedule was shortened) to $4,074,074 ($11 million before the change).

Cano, deGrom Pay Early Dividends Leading Mets to Opening Day Win

by Scott Mandel

Now is when the true bosses of major league baseball teams, the general managers, get to see if their off-season brilliance of player signings and acquisitions turn out, on the field, as well as they seemed to be in the planning stages, on paper.

Welcome to the 2019 baseball season. For the Mets, after one game, so far, so good.

If Brodie Van Wagenen is keeping score after today’s opening day game for his New York Mets, he’s accepting high-fives from the Wilpon family tonight after the Mets defeated the Washington Nationals in Washington, 2-0, behind his key acquisition.

Robinson Cano, acquired by Van Wagenen from the Seattle Mariners to be the number three hitter in the Mets lineup, supplied the offensive firepower, such as it was, to bring the Mets home to a 2-0 win this afternoon over the second best pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Cano led the way with a first inning home run and a clutch single to the opposite field in the sixth inning, driving in both Mets runs to pave the way for the first win of the season for the best pitcher in baseball, Mets ace, Jacob deGrom.

Watch Cano’s home run today:
https://www.mlb.com/video/robinson-cano-homers-1-on-a-fly-ball-to-center-field

Cano’s production led to the first win of the season for deGrom, he of the two-day old, ink not quite dried $137.5 million, five-year contract extension. After his Cy Young season in 2018, in which the Mets averaged 1.7 runs per game for him, the two runs Cano drove in must have felt like a deluge.

But, deGrom made those runs stand up, shutting down a solid Nationals lineup in front of a full house in D.C.

DeGrom finished his day, throwing six innings, allowing five hits, zero runs, zero walks, and 10 strikeouts. A dominating performance even if his command early in the game wasn’t at its peak.

“I made some good pitches when I needed to,” deGrom said. “I threw some sliders and changeups, especially later in the game. I didn’t have great command of my breaking pitches early on but I was able to battle.”

Last season, deGrom, finished only one game over .500, with a 10-9 record, as astounding a set of numbers for a Cy Young winner as has ever existed. He almost needed to shut out opposing teams to have a chance at getting a win. Even though his support today wasn’t much better, the presence of Cano, the former Yankee who is on a Hall of Fame track as one of the best hitting second basemen the game has seen. adds star power to a Mets lineup that can only look better because of his presence.

“Scherzer is one of the best out there,” said Cano after the game in discussing his home run in the first. “I was looking for a pitch over the plate. I was able to make contact with one right over the middle.”

DeGrom was thankful for his two runs but just as happy to get good defensive support from his mates.

“We had good plays in the field, behind me,” deGrom added. “I was nervous today. Once I get out there, I’m okay. But, I felt the pressure today with it being Opening Day.”

This was the first time Cano had played behind deGrom.

Jacob deGrom
DeGrom gets his first win of 2019 against the Nationals

“DeGrom is so special,” Cano said. “It’s unbelievable how he can pitch out of tough situations. He’s fun to play behind.”

To top off the Brodie ratings of player acquisitions, the Mets new closer, the 6’3″, 165 lb. beanpole, Edwin Diaz, pitched a tidy and high-powered (hitting 99mph on the radar gun) last inning to close the matter out.

Brodie Van Wagenen was smiling at the end of the game.

Notes: Today’s outing by deGrom was his 30th straight start allowing 3 runs or less, a major league baseball record. Cano was the 10th player in Mets history to hit a home run in his first at bat with the team. Mets rookie first baseman, Pete (“don’t call me, Peter”) Alonzo got his first major league hit, a single in the eighth inning.