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March 30, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Opening Day Matchup

by Jim Baker

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Opening Day Matchup
New York Mets @ St. Louis Cardinals

With the Mets visiting the Cardinals to open the 2007 regular season, I thought we'd take a look back at their previous Opening Day meetings today. First, though, this: After the girls' softball team lost a game to Woodinville last week by the score of 64-0, Franklin High School principal Jennifer Wiley told the Seattle Times that her school's softball team will have to learn how to define success for itself, apart from the scoreboard. Some suggestions:

Shoes are tied correctly.

Glove is on the proper hand.

Players bat by gripping the thin end of the bat - not the thicker part where the hits come from.

Team brings specific sport-appropriate equipment to the field - not basketballs or tennis rackets.

Lineup card contains no spelling errors.

Nobody is struck by lightning.

No bugs get into the Gatorade.

Team's popouts have especially nice trajectories and look majestic against the spring sky.

Infield chatter is diverse, concise and well-articulated.

Team bus gets to game without running over any dogs or squirrels.

And, speaking of teams that knew how to lose, we start in 1962

1962: St. Louis 11 - New York 4
The Mets inaugurated their existence with a trip to St. Louis where they proceeded to fall behind 2-0 in the first inning as the great Stan Musial drove in the first run ever against them. They did tie the score at two but never got the lead. In fact, it wasn't until their fourth game that they got a lead at all. After two weeks of play and nine games, they had amassed a total of three leads that had held up for about six combined innings--none of which was the ninth. The game also proved to be a microcosm of their season in this regard: they surrendered four unearned runs. Over the course of their first year, 15.5 percent of their runs allowed would be credited as unearned. While that was the highest percentage in the league--and the '62 Mets created a legend as one of the worst fielding teams ever--this probably sounds worse than it is to the modern fan; about 12.8 percent of all runs were unearned in 1962 as opposed to last year in the National League when the number was down under 9 percent and no team cracked double figures. Another indication that things have changed is that only 16,147 fans were on hand for Opening Day. True, it had been postponed a day by rain, but still, such a thing seems inconceivable in this day and age.

1963: St. Louis 7 - New York 0
Discussion: were the '63 Mets worse than the '62 version? History gives all the negcred to the inaugural team but if you look at the runs scored/runs allowed, a case can be made that the '62 team was just a lot unluckier. The Mets were shackled by Ernie Broglio in this game, managing just a double and a single. Poor Broglio--it is his eternal fate to be remembered as the man traded for future Hall of Famer Lou Brock, but we should remember that he was a pretty decent pitcher in his own right until his arm went south on him. He was good enough to get the ball on Opening Day for a pretty decent team. Something else that is rarely mentioned is that there were four other players in that trade apart from Brock and Broglio. While it is not defensible to characterize any of the others as main cogs in the trade, it was not the straight-up deal history makes it out to be. This would also prove to be Stan Musial's last Opening Day. He had had a great year at 41 the season before with a .312 EqA and the 12th-best VORP in the National League (36.3), but he opened the '63 season batting in the six-hole and proved that's probably where he belonged. While still slightly above average, his .271 EqA that year was the worst of his career, which is a positive in itself, really.

1985: New York 6 - St. Louis 5 (10)
The Cardinals battled back from a 5-2 deficit and tied it in the ninth on a bases-loaded walk to Jack Clark only to lose the next inning when Gary Carter homered off of Neil Allen. It was the first of six extra-inning games between the two clubs that year including a pair of 1-0 games that went either way. They ended up one-two in the standings and would split the next five division titles between them. Willie McGee--who would go on to win the MVP award--did not start the game but did have a key pinch hit in the ninth.

1989: New York 8 - St. Louis 4
The Mets beat on Joe Magrane like he owed them money and gave Doc Gooden a 7-3 lead after four innings. The Cards scored their first three runs on a homer by Pedro Guerrero who might end up being forgotten in baseball history not because he wasn't a very good player (how about that lifetime .310 EqA?) but because a better one with the same last name showed up not long after he finished playing.

1992: New York 4 - St. Louis 2 (10)
There were a lot of new faces in the Mets lineup on Opening Day in 1992, starting at the top with Vince Coleman, Willie Randolph, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and BP fave Bill Pecota. It was not a team of note but it get by the Cardinals as David Cone and Jose DeLeon battled in regulation. Lee Smith failed to close the 2-1 lead in the ninth and surrendered a two-run homer to Bonilla in the 10th. Neither starting pitcher finished the season with their original team. On August 27, Cone was dealt to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and a player-to-be-named who turned out to be Ryan Thompson. Four days later, DeLeon was released only to be picked up by the Phillies for the last three weeks of the season. Let that be a lesson to the 30 men handed the ball for inaugurals in the days to come: it's no guarantee of anything other than that you're the man at that given moment.

1996: New York 7 - St. Louis 6
The Cardinals' 1996 season started and ended poorly. In between was their finest showing in a decade, as Tony La Russa took them to within one game of the World Series in his inaugural year at the helm. Unfortunately, that one game was a 15-0 drubbing at the hands of the Braves. In their opener, St. Louis built a 6-0 lead by the fourth inning but let it slip away gradually. The Mets scored four runs on five singles and a sac fly in the seventh to grab the lead. This doesn't seem all that long ago, really, but only five of the 31 players who took part in the game were still in the major leagues last season: Royce Clayton, Mark Sweeney and John Mabry (Cardinals) and Jeff Kent and Edgardo Alfonzo of the Mets.

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