There was a certain anxiety that started when the Mets lost the final game of 2008 that led up to April 6 of 2009.
It’s safe to say fans knew in the offseason that they would have an overhauled bullpen for 2009. Not much else seemed to need change. The bullpen blew 27 saves in 2009, and the Mets won 89 games. Had they locked down 12 of those games, they would have had the best record in baseball.
Leading into 2009, they had a top-three pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana), top-five players at three positions (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran), and a first baseman coming off an MVP-caliber season (Carlos Delgado), not to mention a promising young left fielder and a right fielder who was the team’s best hitter in April and May of 2008 before sustaining a concussion.
Fans expected big things from the rest of the rotation, with Mike Pelfrey coming off an unconscious hot streak to end the season; two pitchers with fantastic stuff, if only they could harness it (Oliver Perez and John Maine); and a promising fifth starter in Livan Hernandez, along with depth in the rotation.
The way the season began was very ironic. The Mets beat the Reds in two out of three games, including an Opening Day win that we all thought was going to be “the formula” for the season. Santana pitched dominantly into the sixth, Sean Green provided solid middle relief, and J.J. Putz set it up for K-Rod, who locked stuff down.
I want to point out that “the formula,” as our esteemed manager deemed it, played out just four times this season in Mets wins (that is, Santana starting, Putz setting up, and Frankie finishing the game). One doesn’t need to read into this too much; it’s simply an observation on my part.
Next up, the Mets split the first two games of the series with the Marlins and then suffered a loss despite Johan’s most dominant start as a Met. Santana turned in seven innings of two-run (none earned) ball, striking out 13, but ended up on the short side at the hands of Daniel Murphy (literally), who dropped a fly ball on the warning track in the second inning that led to two runs for the Marlins.
Josh Johnson then took care of business (as he always does against the Mets), shutting them down until the ninth, when they pushed through for one run before Josh locked it down.
Citi Field’s opener will live in infamy for a few reasons. First, Pelfrey surrendered a home run in the opening at-bat to Jody Gerut; also, the winning run scored on a balk (charged to Pedro Feliciano).
There’s only one team that these outlandish feats can be accounted to. Congratulations—if you’re reading this, you’re a Mets fan, and this is your team. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s my team too.)
Also highlighting this home stand were Gary Sheffield’s 500th homer and the first Citi Field walk-off hit (of the infield variety, by Luis Castillo).
In the stretch soon following the first home stand, we started to discover some of the team’s flaws. In a sweep by the Cardinals, Beltran’s baserunning (not sliding into home plate) took away momentum for the entire series.
A three-game dose of the Nationals was good for a perk-up, but the Marlins gave the Amazin’s a rude welcome home in the next three-game set, which featured Jerry Manuel’s famed calling of Omir Santos to pinch-hit from the bullpen with bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth (he popped up, by the way).
As the calendar changed to May, next up was a two-game split with the Phils, one of which was blown in typical Mets fashion (a double play hit into with runners on the corners in the 10th and ending in a walk-off walk issued by Green).
Following this loss, the Mets ripped off their best streak of the season, which stretched from May 3-16. They swept two-game sets from the Braves and Phillies and three games from the Pirates. Following that, despite another loss issued to Santana in a zero-earned-run-start, the Mets stayed hot.
Heading into a series against the Dodgers, the Mets were winners of 12 of 16, coming off a particularly exciting series against the Giants in which they broke ninth-inning ties against Brian Wilson on consecutive nights, and then actually scored some runs for Santana on a day where he didn’t have his best stuff.
Pelfrey had his issues with balks in the last game of the series, but the Mets had some momentum, despite their team’s health (Reyes’ leg was bothering him, and Delgado had already hit the shelf a week prior.)
The Dodgers series was one of the most outstandingly ugly sets of games I have ever witnessed. The Citi Slickers managed to have the go-ahead run in extra innings miss third, commit five errors in one game, and leave an incomprehensible 26 runners on base in the series. Enough said...but some hope still ensued, as the Mets headed into a series against the Boston Red Sox.
I hope we all remember this series as being the high point of the season. The Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball, having beaten up on everyone, including the Yankees. In a weekend series, Santana displayed sheer grittiness and dominance, beating the Red Sox by a 5-3 margin on May 22.
In my mind, this start was Johan’s signature as a Met. He didn’t seem to have his very best stuff, but he held the Sox to one run on eight hits. He struck out seven and had a particularly interesting moment with Kevin Youkilis. Johan hit Youk with an inside fastball, and Youkilis seemed to be (maybe in jest, maybe not) complaining about being hit. Santana then yelled at him to get to first base.
Overall, Johan displayed to the fullest extent his competitive, winning-is-the-only-thing attitude the most in this game.
Following this start was one of the better pitching duels the Mets participated in during the 2009 season. Josh Beckett and Pelfrey nearly matched each other deep into the game, with Pelfrey leaving after seven down 2-1 (and those runs all came in the first inning).
Beckett yielded to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning. He stayed away from Gary Sheffield to lead off the inning, issuing a walk. But Papelbon rebounded to overpower David Wright and Jeremy Reed with fastballs, leaving just Omir Santos standing in the way of a Red Sox win.
Santos deposited Papelbon’s first pitch, a 97-mile-per-hour piece of cheddar, just above the in-play line on the Green Monster, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. Putz then finished it off for the Mets in a ninth inning where he gave up three screamers that were hit right at Met defenders.
Despite losing the final game of the series, the Mets felt good about having taken two of three from a top interleague opponent. They responded by sweeping the Nationals and taking two of three from the Marlins.
After two months, they seemed (finally) primed for their run. Despite some issues with injuries, defense, and baserunning, and an offense that seemed to have taken a step back power-wise, the Mets were hot and confident heading into June.
The first two months clearly showed that the Mets had promise to the season, and they were defined by Santana's pure dominance of opponents, Frankie and J.J. closing out games, and the idea that the Mets were close to putting it together despite being banged up.
Despite the fact that I remember thinking, "Could this be a lost season?" I still had a monumental amount of faith in the Mets, completely unknowing of how disappointed I'd end up.