MIAMI — Mets owner Steve Cohen sat way down the right-field line with several hundred working-class straphangers from the Mets-loving 7 Line community. For this Opening Day, Cohen played a true man of the people, separated from the masses only by the occasional serenades in tribute to him — “Un-cle Stee-eeve” — and of course about $20 billion in the bank account.
The fun actually started the night before, when Cohen led a rally with Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson and other orange-and-blue luminaries at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino 20 miles north in Hollywood here. Mets fans seem energized like almost never before by their record $375 million payroll and the promise of greatness.
“Just 2,000 of my closest friends,” Cohen texted about the Opening Day eve event that started the two-day celebration interrupted in true Mets fashion by one more major mishap.
Mets fans are pumped for this roster containing two Hall of Fame pitching résumés (though unfortunately, only one remained active as of Thursday). It should be no shock the rather large crowd of 31,397 by Marlins standards leaned Mets even in the heart of the 305.
The day was nearly perfect like so many Mets openers — they almost always start great! — highlighted by the professional pitching of co-ace Max Scherzer, superb work by the depleted bullpen, fancy glovework of their $341 million shortstop Francisco Lindor and just enough timely hits off defending NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara and nameless folks who followed him.
But as Mets fans know, setbacks often accompany celebratory occasions. A day where everyone was set to cheer began with some bitterly disappointing news — that co-ace Justin Verlander would have to start his Mets career on the injured list.
There will be those who say this is so Mets, and I get it. Here is Verlander, one of the best and most reliable pitchers over the past quarter century, and he can’t pitch, at least for now.
“This is not the way I wanted my Mets tenure to start, that is for sure,” Verlander said.
Officially, it was announced that he was suffering from a low-grade strain of the teres major. For those who didn’t major in physiology, that’s apparently a muscle near the armpit.
“It’s another challenge we’re going to have to face,” manager Buck Showalter said. ‘We’ll get through it. I try not to focus on it. I know our clubhouse won’t.”
Sometimes it feels like you need a medical degree to cover the Mets, who now have $73 million worth of pitchers unavailable to them, counting Jose Quintana and of course Edwin Diaz, who literally did hurt himself while celebrating.
Sometimes, it feels like Mets fans aren’t allowed to be completely happy.
But say this for them, the team did look terrific in the 5-3 season-opening win, at least the guys on the field. One can only imagine how great they may be when they are all back together.
Verlander expressed some confidence this area of pain didn’t denote major time missed. But even better than him feeling well enough to continue to play catch is his history of resilience. He was chosen as the alternative to Jacob deGrom not only because he’s the 2022 ERA champion but also because he isn’t an MRI champion.
Anyway, the Mets’ other $43.33 million man, Scherzer, did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was enough to get by. Scherzer used a mix of pitches more than pure velocity to sail through the first five innings before three extra-base hits punctuated by Garrett Cooper’s long home run tied the score in the sixth, and gave the quieter Marlins fans a brief thrill.
Scherzer didn’t have his best fastball — it was a four-seamer that Cooper deposited in the center-field stands — but he used his full repertoire and smarts to get by. The combination of Scherzer and Verlander is what should make this Mets team special. But for now it’s just Scherzer who played his role of ace nicely.
It’s like the Mets have two of the exact same great things, which is one of the luxuries of possessing a record payroll. I wouldn’t say these two future Hall of Famers have had precisely the same careers. No, by striking out six Marlins, Scherzer moved in front of Verlander. He has 3,199 strikeouts to 3,198 for Verlander. So it’s pretty close.
If you can get past Verlander’s setback, it was a wonderful day with lots of their talents on display. Brandon Nimmo laced the game-winning two-run double past new center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr., batting champ Jeff McNeil started with two hits and the Mets made enough out of a little, which is what they do.
The fans here were going crazy.
“The 7 Line showed up in full force,” Nimmo said. “It was really awesome. It felt like a home game.”
Cohen said it felt like a “frenzy” out in right field, and he was loving it, too. One disappointment wasn’t about to spoil their day. Or his, either.