For Mets, opening day provides a quick reminder of the fragility and resilience of these products

MIAMI – Justin Verlander stopped walking and stared at the screen. Francisco Lindor did the same. He said, making his way to his locker, “Hey, look, baseball, real baseball.” The televisions inside the Mets captivated the players because that’s the strength of Opening Day, when everything begins anew with curiosity and hope. On this day, it takes a lot to suppress those feelings.

But minutes later, the scene inside the bowels of Depot Park defied that typical optimism. Mets general manager Billy Eppler explained to a large group of reporters how Verlander would be placed on the 15-day injured list with a low-grade (back of the shoulder) muscle strain. Verlander downplayed the severity of the injury, saying that after a day or two he would be playing catch. However, the news was a terrible blow due to the timing. Two days before Verlander was set to make his Mets debut, two hours before the team began a pivotal 162-game journey.

The Mets ended up beating the Marlins, 5-3, on Thursday, but started the season like a brand-new luxury car that had been scratched and dented before leaving the garage.

The Mets have a payroll of close to $442 million, including luxury taxes. On Thursday, they played without three trophies from Steve Cohen’s big-spending winter: Edwin Diaz, Jose Quintana, and Verlander. Their three 2023 salaries total about $75 million, or roughly 75 percent of the Marlins’ salaries.

Diaz’s knee injury looks like a fluke because the near elite tore the patella amid an on-field celebration at the World Baseball Classic.

Quintana’s injury seems unfortunate given the veteran’s durability record.

Verlander’s injury is different.

It underscores the fragility underlying the Mets’ roster build.

New York has invested heavily in a senior rotation led by Verlander, 40, and Max Scherzer, 38, because both remain some of the best shooters in the game. The trade off is their lifespan. And with age comes the risks in terms of injury and declining skills.

For most of spring training, Verlander said he was feeling better physically. Things eventually changed. His speed decreased to about 91-92 mph. The right-hander told the Mets about discomfort in his shoulder area Wednesday night after the bullpen, which led to an MRI scan Thursday. After receiving the news of the injury, Verlander showed some optimism. He was relieved it wasn’t a back-body injury because the last time he had one of those, he was missing a few months. “The fact that I will be able to continue pitching shows how minor the injury is,” he said. If it was a different point in the season, like the playoffs, he said he would come close. He said he didn’t expect it to be out for long.

But still…

“It just feels like rubbish, especially on a personal level,” said Verlander. “Not the way I wanted my tenure at the Mets to start, that’s for sure.”

In Verlander’s place, Tylor Megill is called up from Triple-A Syracuse to start on Saturday and at Citi Field next week. The Mets had arranged their spring schedule so that Verlander would hit the home opener while Scherzer took the ball on Opening Day.

Around 3:45 p.m., the Mets began returning to normalcy for their season-opening celebration. The group lined up along the first base side in the chorus of “Let’s go Mets!” At 4:13 p.m., Brandon Nimmo took a invited hit on the first pitch of the Mets season. Every time Pete Alonso walked to the plate, a large number of New York City Miami fans would rhythmically chant, “Pete Alonso! Pete Al-on-So! Pete Al-on-So!” . At 6:35 pm, Mark Kanha drowned. All the normal things one would expect to hear and see from the Mets on Opening Day.

At some point in the middle of the game, Cohen, the club’s billionaire owner, joined the seventh-line army in the stands near the right field corner. It was the epitome of moving on from a bad break, and enjoying the moment.

All along, the Mets looked like an experienced, talented, and resilient team.

New York resumed its grinding style from last year by taking a quality at bat against Sandy Alcántara, knocking NL Cy Young Award winner out of the game in the sixth inning after allowing three runs. After the Marlins tied it, 3–3, in the sixth inning, the Mets responded with a two-run run in the seventh on a Brandon Nimmo double. The Bulls, without Diaz, composed three scoreless runs as Drew Smith scored the seventh, Brooks Raleigh got the eighth, and David Robertson shut out the game.

In a stellar opening game for the Mets, the club’s only other concern after Verlander’s injury had to do with their other ace, Scherzer.

For Scherzer’s first five rounds, he looked great. He deftly used his slider and took advantage of the Marlins’ aggression. Only one hit was allowed to that point. But on Scherzer’s final run, he looked away. His fastball dribbled over the plate several times at about 93 mph, and on three occasions the Marlins pounced, twice in doubles and once in two runs. After damaging his fastball, Garrett Cooper drilled a belt-high fastball 0-1 for a homer. Catcher Omar Narváez accepted the blame for not fielding a proper field goal at the right time. He asked for a fastball, Narváez said, but wanted it away for a ball. But when he saw Luis Aries make a pitch from second base, the catcher thought Scherzer was about to try and go. Thus, he never moved from his position on top of the plate until it was too late. Narváez believed that if he had moved early to take up residence abroad, the error would not have occurred. But still, during the inning there were other similar fastballs lacking in Scherzer’s typical late life.

The Mets relied on their quality depth, lineup and resilience to get a Day 1 win, but it’s Scherzer and Verlander who will go a long way in determining how long New York’s season lasts.

Throughout the day, the club never seemed sad in response to Verlander’s injury. After the match, veterans such as Nemo and Robertson described the news of the injury as an obstacle to overcome. They said it’s a long season with ups and downs. They have been trained not to be affected by any one thing. Nemo added that upon learning of the news, he tried not to think too much about it. He admitted it was a challenge, then offered a reminder that the Mets have enough depth going forward.

“It’s one of the things that good clubs can do,” Showalter said.

They didn’t expect to do this so soon.

“It’s miserable because it’s the start of the season,” said Verlander. “But I’ve never been part of a team from start to finish, no matter how good it is – a World Series winning team, a playoff team, whatever – that hasn’t dealt with injuries all season. It seemed like a buildup at the beginning of this season. But maybe we’ll get rid of it.” All that now.

“I am an eternal optimist.”

(Top photo by Max Scherzer on opening day: Megan Briggs/Getty Images)


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