It was a grand opening in one sense -- the first regular-season game in the history of Citi Field, this jewel of a ballpark amidst the bustle of a borough. But from the start -- from the first batter -- something seemed wrong. A little off. Even after the Padres completed their rather anticlimactic 6-5 victory over the Mets, that feeling had not subsided.
The Mets had lost. And grander openings would have to wait.
"We'd have liked to have gotten it behind us with a win," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "But it's good to move forward."
Yet Monday's most acute problem actually came when Ryan Church was trying to move back. It was the top of the sixth inning, perhaps the liveliest point of a lively day, in large part because David Wright had just smacked a three-run homer to tie the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the fifth.
Before Brian Stokes could record an out, Luis Rodriguez lofted a fly ball to right field. Church, in a zig-zag pattern, moved underneath it. But much as Daniel Murphy's errant path to a ball had a hand in a critical error in Sunday's game, Church's route forced him to whirl the wrong way to try to catch the ball.
Up went his glove, and down went the ball, deflecting off his webbing and falling to the dirt.
Rodriguez wound up on third, scoring on a balk by Pedro Feliciano. And the Mets, who did not hold a lead in their first game at Citi Field, did not score again.
"I knew exactly where I was," Church said. "I was just thinking it was another fly ball. I opened up the wrong way."
Which certainly seems justified in an unfamiliar ballpark. Church, in particular, had spent much of the past week fielding questions about the quirks of right field, one of the most oddly shaped pastures in the Majors. But he dismissed the notion that Citi Field played a role in his error.
"It had nothing to do with the ballpark," Church said.
The only role the ballpark seemed to play was in preventing the Mets from coming back. Carlos Beltran, for example, drilled a long fly ball to deep center field, but Jody Gerut caught it just shy of the warning track, midway between straightaway center and the 415-foot sign to the right.
Only Wright could muster one over the faraway wall. It was, for the Mets, easily the most exciting moment in Citi Field's infancy. But it turned out to be merely temporary thrill for a team that has now lost four of its past five games.
"I'd rather have the win," Wright said.
So would Mike Pelfrey, who instead took the loss. Trouble plagued Pelfrey early and never quite left, after Gerut curled a leadoff home run around the right-field foul pole.
Pelfrey has now walked six batters in his first two starts of the season, allowing nine runs in 10 innings. Yet more vexing was that on this night, 13 of the first 14 Padres who put the ball in play did so through the air. For a ground-ball specialist, that spells almost certain defeat.
At one point, Pelfrey fell to the ground in the latter part of his windup, shooing away the coaches and trainers that came to check on him -- but inspiring a fair bit of worry.
Pelfrey had indeed fallen on this night. So too had the Mets.
"We didn't see what we expected to see out of Mike Pelfrey," Manuel said. "I think that in itself is somewhat concerning more than anything else."
"The bottom line," Pelfrey said, "is I haven't been very good."
Nor were the Mets very good on Monday, on a day and in a park in which they would have liked to have been pristine. The Mets didn't want to christen Citi Field with a loss. And this one wasn't just "one of 162." This was the first game at the new park. The Mets won't have another one of those.
Then again, perhaps the pressure's off now. The Mets lost to the Padres, even going without a hit against Mets castoffs Duaner Sanchez and Heath Bell in the eighth and ninth innings. They lost due to subpar pitching and questionable defense, the two things that plagued them throughout a disappointing first week of the season. But they can move forward now, as Manuel said, without the pressure of a stadium hanging over them.
Citi Field is open, now one of 30 ballparks in the nation. The Mets are again one of 30 teams. But they'd like to think that they're better than most, in the same way that this day was rather different than all the others.
"It's something pretty special -- something I'll always remember," Wright said. "But I would have loved to have won."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less