(Long Island, NY) A record crowd of 56, 227 packed a chilly Shea Stadium to cheer on the Mets in their home opener on Monday afternoon. The game may have taken over three hours, but no one seemed to mind with the Mets coming back to defeat their division rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies, by a score of 11-5.
What began as a close contest that went back and forth ended with a brutal bottom of the eighth inning for Charley Manuel and the Phils. Trailing 5-4, the Mets batted around and scored seven runs to win going away.
Two quality young starters were on the hill at the beginning of the game. John Maine and Cole Hamels both pitched well enough to win, but the Mets bullpen did the job and the Phillies did not.
“We have to fix and improve our bullpen,” said Manuel, the Philadelphia manager. “We have to play better sound baseball.”
Hamels, the Phillies 23 year-old second-year phenom, reached base safely in the second inning and came around to score on Chase Utley’s sacrifice fly. Jose Valentin put the Mets up in the bottom of the fourth inning with a two-out hit that plated two runs. Carlos Delgado was waived home by third base coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. and barely made it in under the tag of Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Shane Victorino tied it the next inning with a solo home run to left field off John Maine. Manager Willie Randolph pulled the Mets’ young right-hander later that same inning when he loaded the bases with two outs. Ambioroix Burgos made his Shea debut and received an ovation from the fans when he induced third baseman Abraham Nunez to ground out.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jose Reyes reached on a muffed pop to the pitcher’s mound and came around on Delgado’s sacrifice fly to center field to make the score 3-2.
In the top of the sixth inning, Ryan Howard, the reigning National League MVP, tattooed a Burgos delivery 390 feet into the right field bullpen with two runners on, giving Philadelphia a 5-3 lead. Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano then came out of the Mets bullpen to pitch a scoreless inning each and keep the game within reach.
“That scoreless inning made a big difference,” said closer Billy Wagner, who pitched a scoreless ninth, in reference to Smith’s 1-2-3 seventh inning. “These [middle] innings are important, because if you give up a run or two there, maybe we don’t come back and win the game.”
Carlos Delgado made it a one-run game when he singled in Paul Lo Duca home from second base with two out in the bottom of the seventh. An inning later, Moises Alou began the barrage with a sharp single to right-center field. The wheels started to come off for Philadelphia four batters later when shortstop Jimmy Rollins made an error on a
potential inning-ending double-play grounder by the speedy Jose Reyes. Pinch runner Endy Chavez came around to score the tying run. The Mets went ahead when Geoff Geary uncorked a wild pitch with Lo Duca at the plate.
“It is what it is,” said Geary. “I was trying to make a pitch and threw it over his head.”
Former Yankee John Lieber came on in relief and did not fair much better. The big blow came off the bat of David Wright, who recorded his only hit of the day with a shot off the left field wall, good enough for a double and two RBI. By the time smoke cleared, the Mets were comfortably ahead and the final three outs became merely a formality.
“With the team that we have and the lineup we have, we’re expected to go out and score runs,” Beltran said. “Any guy can be the hero and do the damage and it’s a great feeling. Pitchers can’t pitch the game that they want to when they’re facing a good lineup.”
With the win, the Mets snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-2. The Phillies’ early season struggles continued as they dropped to 1-6.