It’s Not a Hill; it’s a Mountain, as the Mets Start Their Climb

April 8, 2009

Just a short walk north from Great American Ballpark, the Cincinnati Reds’ home, there is a casual little eatery named Paula’s Café with a home-style atmosphere that serves up mostly breakfast and lunch. When the Reds are in town, it caters to the hustle and bustle of the downtown vicinity as well as the out of town baseball fan who is trying desperately to flee an early April-like storm. That would be me.

As long as anyone can remember, there has always been an Opening Day game in Cincinnati. And, just as long, there has been a parade which runs across Walnut Street to the tune of high school marching bands decked out in a sea of red. Prior to the start of Monday’s day game between the Mets and the Reds, a small group of us barreled down I-71 South from Columbus inside a driving rainstorm that seemed to get worse with every successful lane change. Eventually, we ended up inside a parking garage adjacent to Pete Rose Way and made our final descent towards the stadium. Regardless of the weather, we were set on seeing a baseball game.

During the seventh-inning stretch, well after the Mets’ Daniel Murphy had blasted a solo shot into left field which put the Mets up, 1-0, reliever Sean Green slapped the choke-hold on the Reds hitters cutting off any chance of a rally and reducing the hometown fans into sullen mockery throughout the reciting of God Bless America. The following two innings were then headlined by two of the newest members of the Mets’ bullpen, J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez. They followed Green’s lead. Overall, the Mets relievers retired 10 of 11 hitters to allow for Johan Santana’s first win of the season. “They deserve all the credit,” Santana said. “That’s when the game was won.” For Rodriguez, he earned his first save as a Met, with more to come.

Others, such as Jose Reyes did their job as well. In the top of the first inning, Reyes got on with an infield hit, stole second, moved over to third on a fielder’s choice but was left stranded after David Wright struck out swinging. Wright redeemed himself later in the game with a brilliant defensive play at third in which he snagged a laser-beam hit by the Reds Alex Gonzalez and then rose to his feet to complete the play for an out. Left-fielder Ryan Church, who seems to be playing for his life these days since the recent acquisition of veteran Gary Sheffield, made an outstanding play in which he slid and secured the ball, then came up firing to gun down Edwin Encarnacion for a double play. However, the main event for the Mets was their bullpen.

“Our bullpen may be one of our best assets,” David Wright said. “They were lights-out the first game of the season.”

For GM Omar Minaya, who was instrumental in orchestrating the significant trades and free agent signings that went into acquiring about a third of the relief core, he was proud of their success.

“It’s the way you want it to work, the way you draw it up in January,” Minaya said.

As for Jerry Manuel, he can relax for at least one night and enjoy a bowl of Skyline’s signature chili. “We pitched well and played good defense,” he said. “We could have done more with the bats.”

Of course, for me, I would have liked it if the weather had been a bit more pleasant. But heck, I’ll take the outcome any day.

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