After a spring of uneven play, the Mets played sharply. As a result, they began their 46th season Sunday night precisely as they had hoped to end the NLCS in their 45th season -- beating the Cardinals. But it was all about '07. They asserted the Opening Night powers that seems to have become part of the franchise DNA and made their first step an all-but perfect one. They outdefended, outpitched and outhit the defending World Series champions. They outscored them, too.
Watched through any prism, their 6-1 victory was something to behold.
"As good as Opening Day game as you're probably going to see," is how Tom Glavine assessed it. "I don't recall seeing so many quality defensive plays in a first game. We made some special plays, didn't we?"
Glavine was the beneficiary. He gained the 291st victory of his career, on the strength of four double plays -- two turned in his six innings -- a brilliant throw to the plate by Carlos Beltran and a sprawling catch by Moises Alou, both in the sixth. Take your pick.
Manager Willie Randolph made his mark as a player turning double plays. So, to him, the score of this one read like something borrowed from Wimbledon -- Mets won 5-4-3, 6-4-3, 6-4-3, 4-6-3.
"Love those twin killings," the old second baseman said.
But the Mets did more "good stuff" as Aaron Heilman called it.
"We played a very good game all-around," he said.
And their luck was as good as their stuff.
Two-out, two-run hits by Carlos Delgado in the third and Paul Lo Duca in the fourth, both against losing pitcher Chris Carpenter, were examples of good hitting; so, too, Beltran's two-out single through the middle in the fourth. Hit 'em where they're pitched and hit 'em where they ain't.
Alou's catch denied Adam Kennedy a leadoff single. Two batters later, Beltran's throw -- on a fly to Lo Duca to deny David Eckstein a run and defuse a Cardinals threat -- was a piece of pretty baseball. And the first three double plays were nicely turned, but they had a touch of the routine.
The most critical one, the one that ended the Cardinals' final push in the eighth, was touched by the unseen hand and caught by the gloved hand of Jose Valentin. It came before the Mets scored their sixth run and after the Cardinals had loaded the bases against Pedro Feliciano (leadoff walk) and rookie Joe Smith (a single by Eckstein and a one-out walk to Albert Pujols).
Heilman was summoned to face Scott Rolen. In an ultimate sense, his second pitch had the desired effect.
"It didn't have the desired velocity," Heilman said. This is how he remembered it: A silent "oh no" and ...
"It's on the ground. ... OK, that's a bonus.
"Next thought was 'Be at someone, please.'
"I turned around just as it reached Jose. He snared it. We run off the field. ... Routine, routine. I had it planned perfectly. I knew just how far to ... "
All things considered, it was the play of the year.
"We did a lot of things winning teams do," Heilman said. "And it only took one game."
The Mets overcame inertia in nearly every facet of the game. And inertia can be a formidable force in a baseball season. Each of their starters, Glavine included, had at least one hit. Lo Duca and Shawn Green had two each. It's a comforting feeling to see something other than three zeros on the scoreboard in the first at-bat of the second game.
"I couldn't get two hits in a week in Spring Training," Green said. He batted .149 in 74 at-bats. "A couple or more games like that and Spring Training will be a distant memory."
A more memorable first passed in the eighth inning when Smith made his big-league debut. His first batter singled. He had an 0-2 count on Eckstein, "But I didn't expand the strike zone," he said. He struck out Preston Wilson and walked Pujols.
"I wanted to face him. Now I've faced the greatest hitter in the league. And he didn't beat us."
"Lots of firsts today," Randolph said. "He got through it OK. That's the first one out of the way. It's a nice little step he took. He's got moxey. I like that."
And the most important first had been handled, too. They had won. The Mets won their first game for the 29th time in 38 years, their 29th victory in 46 Opening Days. Their .630 Opening Day percentage is the best in the game.
"What about second games?" Randolph wanted to know.