Mets Like Ike In First Baseman’s Debut at Citi Field

Published on: 20th April, 2010

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NEW YORK — The Mets told everyone how important it was that they get off to a good start. More than that, they gave everyone the impression that their manager’s job security depended on getting off to a good start.

That said, Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya, both fully aware of how hot their seats have become, decided to put their trust into two of the youngest players in the Mets organization and told them to not only go out and win a game but to also save a franchise, the jobs of both Manuel and Minaya, and to mobilize an entire city to put the Mets back into their good graces. Oh, and do all of that in the glare of the bright lights of New York City.

“When you hear a guy down there is hitting tape-measure shots, you kind of put a hint in,” Manuel said, adding that the hint was, “I need a little help.”

So what did youngsters Jonathan Niese, the 24-year old lefthanded pitcher and Ike Davis, the 23-year old first baseman just called up from Buffalo do? They were the big guns in a 6-1 Mets win over the Cubs. In one fell swoop, Davis, with his debut 2 for 4, one RBI performance and Niese, pitching five and two thirds gritty innings and making pitches at the right time, won over a new boatload of Mets fans and kept the sports-talk radio mavens at bay for another day.

If you ask most people connected to the Mets tonight when their season officially started, they would look at you and say with complete sincerity that tonight was the first game of the 2010 season. Despite their 4-8 record coming into this contest, the Mets are walking with an extra hitch in their step after tonight’s win.

Niese allowed eight hits and an unearned run, striking out seven. Fernando Nieve (1-0) pitched 1 1-3 innings for the win.

Chicago’s Randy Wells – who singled twice – only allowed a run himself, but the Mets rallied against the Cubs’ bullpen.

Jose Reyes, who did not start and was in an 0 for 17 slump and hitting .154 since returning to lineup on April 10 after sitting several weeks because of a hyperactive thyroid, was hit by a pitch from James Russell (0-1) to start the seventh.

Gary Matthews Jr. struck out after failing to sacrifice Reyes over before Pagan homered several rows into the seats in left-center for the Mets’ first extra-base hit since Matthews doubled in the ninth inning Friday night at St. Louis.

The drought included New York’s 20-inning win Saturday.

Bay added an RBI double and after Jeff Francoeur reached on an error by third baseman Ramirez, Davis made it 5-1 Mets. Francoeur scored on Sean Marshall’s wild pitch to make it 6-1.

Davis will take over at first base for Mike Jacobs, who was designated for assignment Sunday, while Daniel Murphy recovers from a sprained knee.

After Niese worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, Luis Castillo chopped an RBI single over Wells’ head for a 1-0 lead in the bottom half.

The Cubs scored an unearned run in the sixth. Niese walked Soto and Wells got his second hit with two outs in the inning to end Niese’s night. Soto went to third on Wells’ infield hit when Davis couldn’t scoop Alex Cora’s throw from shortstop out of the dirt.

Byrd then greeted reliever Nieve with a run-scoring infield single to tie it.

This start of the season, such as it is included Jeff Francoeur criticizing manager Jerry Manuel’s plan to eventually bat Jose Reyes third rather than leadoff. Then, two days later, Francoeur wondered why anyone would ever think that he and his teammates aren’t “110 percent” behind the manager.

Then, Reyes (still playing himself into shape after missing most of spring training) can announce that he’s “not ready” to hit third, even though he’s ready to lead off.

As it turned out, Reyes wasn’t ready to bat anywhere in the Mets lineup for Davis’ Monday night debut, pronouncing himself “a little tired.” Manuel, meanwhile, promised that Tuesday will be “the beginning of [Reyes] beginning to take off.”

It’s all a little nuts, starting with the idea that this undermanned Mets team should be playing a whole lot better than it has been. As one realistic Mets person admitted Monday, the team the Mets have put on the field for the first two weeks of the 2010 season is “similar to 2009 — but they’re playing with more fire.”

Davis should provide the Mets with a little help, even if it’s not as much as a fan base frustrated by the success of the Yankees and Phillies is hoping for. Scouts who have seen him play don’t put him anywhere near the Jason Heyward category — Baseball America calls him the third-best first-base prospect in the NL East (behind Florida’s Logan Morrison and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman) — but he is expected to be a good big league player.

Even if he doesn’t hit right away, he’ll at the very least be a defensive improvement over the Jacobs/Fernando Tatis platoon. And with the barely mobile Luis Castillo playing second base, the Mets could use a first baseman who can catch the ball.

The Mets aren’t really sure Davis is ready for this, which is one reason they had him begin the season in Buffalo rather than New York. The other reason is that when the season began, they thought that Daniel Murphy’s stay on the disabled list might be rather short.

Now, two weeks later, they know that the Jacobs/Tatis platoon wasn’t working. They know that Murphy has just begun what Minaya called “limited baseball activity,” and is still weeks away from returning.

So even if the decision to have Davis begin the season in the minors made sense, it’s reasonable to say that the decision to promote him now makes sense, too.

“I didn’t think we’d see him this soon,” one Mets player said Monday. “But I’m glad he’s here.”

So, of course, is Manuel.

“I don’t see him necessarily as the savior of the deal,” Manuel said. “I think we have to be careful about having too high expectations right away. It’s difficult for us to ask him to come in and we get on his back and ride him.”

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