PHILADELPHIA — The Weather Channel says there will be “abundant sunshine” Thursday, the temperature hitting 66 degrees with an outside chance of ticking 70. Rain? Just a 6 percent chance. It’s going to be one of those baseball afternoons that’ll make you want to channel Ernie Banks if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket:
“Let’s play two.”
If you are luckier, the Mets will play a little differently than they did in their final out-of-town tryout, a listless 8-2 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon, or else you might have some other familiar phraseology on the tip of your tongue.
“Let’s try to beat the traffic on the L.I.E.,” is one that jumps to mind.
“Can’t anyone here play this game?” is another.
“BOOOOOOOOO!!!” is a reliable old standby.
OK, OK, OK. It’s three games. It’s one series. There’s plenty of ballgame left, plenty of season, 159 games and counting. The 1969 Mets started their season 2-5 and 3-7 and 6-11. The 1986 Mets started their season 2-3. Early April is for working kinks out, setting tone, settling into the season. Check. Check. Check. Check.
You still have to be a little concerned by what you saw these first three games. You still have to hope the version of the Mets wearing home pinstripes (maybe a throwback black jersey top before too long) will begin to look substantially different by 1:10 or so Thursday afternoon, when Taijuan Walker stares down the Marlins’ Corey Dickerson and the Mets play in front of Citi Field witnesses for the first time in 18 months.
Because it hasn’t been pretty.
Where to start? Well, the bullpen misadventures continued Thursday. The Mets were already stand ing with their heels flush to the cliff when Jacob Barnes trotted in from the pen in relief of David Peterson. Barnes tried to sneak a fastball past J.T. Realmuto in his first pitch as a Met and Realmuto hit one in the general direction of the William Penn Building.
Peterson had a forgettable start to his sophomore year, his ERA for the season sitting at a tidy 108.0 four batters into the game. Michael Conforto, allegedly in a contract push to a nine-figure deal, stranded nine runners, giving him 16 LOB in the Mets’ first three games, an almost preposterous total. Manager Luis Rojas sat Jeff McNeil for no good reason.
Aaron Nola, Philly’s ace, all but begged the Mets to take him out on a day when he barely had his “C” stuff working.
The Mets said: “No, thanks. We’re good.”
It was a full dugout of misery and the crowd of 10,807 at Citizens Bank Park took great delight. The Phillies seemed an afterthought most of the spring, seemed like one of the odd teams out coming north, but they breezed through their opening home stand 5-1 against the Braves and the Mets, the three-time division champs and the presumptive No. 1 challenger.
And don’t think the Phillies didn’t notice this disrespectful pecking order: They pulled off a double steal up six runs in the sixth. It allowed them to score a run off Dellin Betances. Betances was the sixth Mets reliever of the season; all six surrendered runs (Joey Lucchesi finally snapped that grisly streak with two clean innings).
All of this will accompany the Mets home.
At least we know with a reasonable amount of certainty that the weather will be nice. After a year in which the term “abundance of caution” has been a go-to mantra to deal with the daily foil of coronavirus, “abundant sunshine” certainly is a welcome change of pace.
Now the Mets just have to go along with the script.
“You see resiliency, you see guys battling,” Rojas said, searching in the dark for nice things to say about his team (and, really, someone with the Mets should show him old tapes of Rich Kotite press conferences; he seems to be borrowing heavily. That is not a good thing). “I see the guys doing the same thing, always pushing it.”
Trying is nice. Effort is commendable. But the Mets promised more than what we’ve seen so far, in word and in deed. Maybe it really is simply the product of early April. Maybe they’ll be fine once they hit their routines. Until we see it, these will be questions that will continue to be asked. Out of an abundance of caution.