The Mets only hosted 8,492 fans in their home opener Thursday, but they spaced them all over Citi Field. So when the high drama got to the bottom of the ninth draw, two men out, Francisco Lindor at home plate in his first home game as a Met – the cascading reaction from all over the ballpark.
The Miami Marlins, those spoilsports, called for an intentional march. Grunts rained down from the upper deck to the luxury suites through the central field, orange t-shirts.
The strategy was solid. Next hitter, Michael Conforto, took a slider down the middle for a seemingly called third strike. But the pitch, Anthony Bass, brushed against Conforto’s elbow pad as he leaned into it, and the second out of the set became the game-winning point.
“A win is a win. It’s over, but I would love to use the bat next time,” Conforto said, adding that he knew he had been hit but didn’t realize his elbow was so far away. “Two hits I went into fight mode and tend to lean over the plate when I’m in fight mode.”
So that was it, a 3-2 Mets win in the opener at home under new owner Steven Cohen, who could lead the Mets for decades and not see another ending like this. For the first crowd at Citi Field since the 2019 regular season finale, take out was not a new star’s magical moment, but the quirky charm of an old game.
“It was an interesting call for sure,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “But we will take the call and take over.”
The replay supervisor confirmed that the bullet hit Conforto, although there was no doubt that part of the room. Giving him first base was judgmental, and Marlins manager Don Mattingly said plate umpire Ron Kulpa told him the replay couldn’t reverse it.
“I really think he knows it was a strike, and he couldn’t back down, in his mind,” Mattingly said. “To be honest with you, I bet he feels bad because they don’t want to do that either.” They don’t want to mess up the game – not necessarily mess up the game, but they don’t want to end up like this, on a strike.
He was right about it. As Kulpa told a reporter by the pool, “The guy got hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him.
The Mets were probably lucky, anyway. Ahead of the game, they lost reliever Dellin Betances on the injured list with a shoulder conflict, another rotten blow for Betances, the much-loved and well-used four-time Yankees All-Star.
Betances was signed under former owner Fred Wilpon, who in recent years had a knack for reckless spending – when he was spending, that is. The arrival of Cohen, who backed up his pledge to spend big by signing Lindor to a 10-year, $ 341 million contract extension last week, is a godsend for fans. They applauded a scoreboard message from Cohen and his wife, Alex, at a pre-game ceremony muted by the restrictions of the pandemic.
There was no giant flag, the national anthem performer sang from the central square of the pitch, and a recorded video segment served as the first ceremonial pitch. Fans had to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test for entry; The team erected tents for screening in the parking lot near the Home Run Apple. Inside the playpen, zip ties locked the prohibited seats in their upright positions. Mr. and Mrs. Met wore masks as they frolicked – and yes, the masks covered their giant noses.
Some concession stands have been closed and most of the enclosed spaces have been closed, such as the children’s souvenir shop in the right corner of the pitch and the newly named Piazza 31 Club on the fifth level of the rotunda. But there were plenty of places to spend money: $ 18.75 for a helmet full of nachos, $ 125 for a roster card used by the game after a loss in Baltimore last September. Before the first pitch, dozens of fans gathered online at Shake Shack, a staple haunt not made for social distancing.
The pre-game conference – still by video conference, alas – was largely about the vaccine. Coaches all got it, Rojas said, and the team held a briefing on it in Philadelphia this week. The vaccines were to be available after Thursday’s game for players, although most were hesitant about whether they would receive the vaccine.
“Well I’m going to put it that way,” said first baseman Pete Alonso. “I’m in an advertisement for a vaccine, right?”
Alonso was more effusive about the fans’ return to Citi Field. He missed the fans so much, he said, that even enemy territory wasn’t so bad.
“Playing all three games in Philadelphia, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a group of Philadelphia fans,” Alonso said. “They were really excited, they were really in the game. It was awesome. I know they’re booing us, but I missed it, in a way.
Queens fans booed too, of course, and a few laughed at Conforto when he finished seventh by failing in a double play. But the bottom of the ninth was a joy, starting with an even home run. on the upper right deck by Jeff McNeil, who turned 29 on Thursday and threw his two-handed bat to celebrate.
“I’ve never turned the bat before – the first time it was fun,” said McNeil, who had been 0 in 10 this season. “My first shot, hitting a big home run on my birthday. Just an amazing day.
Luis Guillorme chose with one out, Brandon Nimmo overtook him in the third, then the walk to Lindor brought Conforto to the plate. “Let’s go!” Lindor shouted at him.
“He was fired for me,” Conforto said. “It got me excited too. I wanted to make sure I didn’t let this get the most out of me.
Instead, one pitch got the lesser of it, and the Mets came away with the win.