There was so much new that was on display for the Mets on Monday night — a new owner with a new superstar shortstop, a new catcher, two new relief pitchers and a new optimism for a brand-new season.
But a familiar old problem emerged late in the game that turned a potentially uplifting win into a demoralizing loss, souring the inauguration of the Steven Cohen era.
Jacob deGrom threw superbly over six strong innings and was even a force with the bat. For the first time in 60 years, a Mets pitcher had the team’s first hit of the season, and he proceeded to go 2 for 3 with an R.B.I. But the Mets bullpen melted down in the eighth inning, and for the 31st time in deGrom’s career the team blew a game that its ace had placed on a platter.
The Phillies scored five times in the eighth inning off Trevor May and Aaron Loup, two relievers added during the Mets busy off-season, and Philadelphia stunned the Mets, 5-3, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
It was the first time the Mets had lost on opening day since 2016 and only their 13th opening day loss since 1970. But once again, deGrom was left answering questions about how it felt to pitch well yet not get a win.
“I’ve said it many times before, the goal is to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win,” deGrom said. “A couple of unfortunate things happened there in the eighth.”
Most unfortunate was that deGrom was no longer pitching, although that was probably the prudent decision. He was removed to protect his health even though he had only thrown 77 pitches, the last of which hit 100.1 miles per hour.
The Mets had waited four days to play their first game of the season because their originally scheduled opening series in Washington was postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak among the Nationals players and staff members. That meant deGrom had not thrown to batters in 10 days, leading to a concern about overextending, and possibly injuring, the best pitcher in baseball on the first day of the season.
DeGrom said he agreed with the decision, but only because of the off circumstances of the delayed start.
“If it was Thursday and normal rest, I don’t think there was any way I’m coming out of that game,” he said.
But it was not the seventh inning that was the problem. Miguel Castro handled that one without allowing a run. To that point the Mets had looked sharp, getting some excellent defense to go with another deGrom mini gem. Francisco Lindor, the Mets’ new shortstop who officially signed his 10-year, $341 million extension earlier in the day, contributed by kicking off a crisp double play in the second inning, and danced off the field with his teammates.
But everything unraveled in the eighth. May, whom the Mets signed as a free agent after he spent six years with the Minnesota Twins, gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases and Mets Manager Luis Rojas brought in the left-handed Loup to face Bryce Harper, the Phillies’ left-handed No. 3 hitter.
Loup hit Harper in the leg with a pitch, forcing in a run.
“Hitting the first batter started it all and set it off,” said Loup, who, by rule, had to stay in the game to face at least two more batters or get a double play. J.T. Realmuto singled to left and Alec Bohm hit a bouncer to Luis Guillorme, who had been inserted for defense at third base
But Guillorme’s attempt to force out the lead runner at home sailed wide. James McCann, the Mets’ new catcher, stepped early toward Guillorme and was unable to adjust to catch the ball. It tipped off his glove and skipped behind him, allowing two runs to score. The final run scored on a sacrifice fly by Didi Gregorius.
“There was a lot of excitement leading up to this day, and it’s not the way you want it to end,” May said. “It was frustrating. I can’t imagine what it was like to watch it.”
The Mets put together a modest rally in the ninth off hard-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado, including Lindor’s first hit as a Met. With two outs, Kevin Pillar and Lindor singled and Michael Conforto ripped a single to right, scoring Pillar.
Joe Girardi, the Phillies’ manager, opted to leave Alvarado in to face the right-handed Alonso, who tagged a pitch to deep right field. For a moment it seemed the Mets might take the lead, but instead it was another game deGrom should have won that the bullpen — and some suspect defense — gave away instead.
“Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself, that’s not what teams are,” May said, and added, “You really want to go out and finish what he started, because it’s masterful most of the time.”