9:55 am Apr. 17, 2012
The New York Mets are 7-3.
The 1986 Mets, who went 108-54 and won the World Series, also started 7-3. But then much was expected of them, after a 98-win season in 1985.
By contrast, very little is expected of this year's team, and they've got a whole season ahead of them to come back down to earth.
But the early-season signs have been almost uniformly positive.
David Wright collected a hit and a walk in Monday night's 6-1 win over the Braves (a game that saw his batting average fall to .542). The Mets' starting pitchers have a collective E.R.A., two times through the rotation, of 2.26. And places like Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park and Atlanta's Turner Field, home to so many Met embarrassments for the past decade-plus, have been surprisingly friendly thus far.
Even the bad omens have led to good outcomes. Andres Torres, the Opening Day center fielder, hurt himself in the very first game, forcing the Mets to call up Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the minor leagues. Nieuwenhuis has hit .292, cracked a home run that gave the Mets the lead last week, and made the catch of the year in right-center field Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
But it's possible that none of these things will turn out to be as important to the Mets' chances of exceeding expectations this year as the performance of Jason Bay.
Signed to a four-year, $66 million contract in the winter of 2009, Bay has been an unmitigated disaster in New York. He'd hit 36 home runs for Boston in his final season before joining the Mets, but hit a total of 18 home runs in 2010-2011 put together. His defense, never his strong suit, continued to be below average.
By the beginning of this season, it seemed like the only real question about Bay wasn't whether he'd give the Mets value, but whether he could hit well enough that the Mets could trade him while absorbing most, rather than all, of his remaining contract.
But Bay hit a long home run on Saturday in Philadelphia. He then missed Sunday's game with a jammed finger, an absence all-too-common over his first two seasons with the Mets, when he playeed 95 and 123 games.
Monday night, however, Bay was magnificent. Not only did he launch another long home run, again to center field, he managed to keep a 1-1 game tied in the fifth inning by robbing Atlanta's Jack Wilson of a home run, leaping over the wall to do it.
Considering that Bay had been hitting under .200 entering Saturday's game, and even after Monday's game still checks in at .194, he has far more work to do to turn his 2012 season into a positive one. But Bay was really the last Met holdout in a start that saw virtually everyone contributing.
With Bay and Ike Davis both hitting, the Mets look, at the very least, plausible.
Just 152 games to go.