THE New York Mets spent money in the offseason to tighten up a bullpen which cost them a trip to the playoffs for each of the past two seasons.
On Monday, it looked like money well spent as JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez shut down the Cincinatti Reds to give Mets fans hope that ’09 may just be their year.
The Amazins continued their Opening Day tradition of success by edging a tight pitching duel in Cincinatti 2-1, winning their fourth consecutive Opening Day outing to improve on their league-best record.
Santana pitched 5 2/3 innings of three-hit ball to record his second straight first day victory, and Daniel Murphy went deep for the Mets as they got their season underway on the right note at the Great American Ballpark.
Shaun Green recorded four consecutive outs in his 1 1/3 inning of work and new acquisition JJ Putz worked around a one-out walk to Chris Dickerson to get the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez who recorded his first save in orange and blue.
The Mets loaded the bases in the 4th inning on a walk, bloop single and intentional walk, but Harang got Santana to fly out to centre field on the eighth pitch of the at bat – the 85th of the game – to end the inning and keep the score tied.
The Reds got their first hit of the ballgame in the bottom of the 4th inning when Jay Bruce drove a low two-out pitch down and away off the centre field wall for a stand-up double.
Daniel Murphy hit the Mets’ first home run of 2009, driving a 3-2 pitch to right centre field after fouling off a pitch up and away to stay alive the previous offering.
The Mets almost added a second run shortly after, when David Wight and Carlos Delgado hit back-to-back bloops to shallow centre field to bring Carlos Beltran to the plate.
Beltran singled to right field, but Wright got a bad jump from second base and Jay Bruce threw him out on a two-hopper despite bobbling the transfer.
Aaron Harang gave up one run – the solo shot to Murphy – on seven hits, walking three and striking out a pair on 114 pitches through five innings of work.
Harang’s replacement Daniel Ray Herrara fell into immidiate difficulty in the top of the 6th inning.
After Brain Schneider grounded out to lead off the inning, Herrara gave up a double to Luis Castillo and then walked Santana and Reyes.
With the bases loaded, Murphy lined a grounder down the first base line. Joey Votto knocked it down to get the out, but Castillo scored easily from third to make it 2-0.
The Reds started to get something going in the home half of the 6th inning. Darnell McDonald led off the inning with a broken-bat single to left field and Joey Votto singled to right.
Both runners advanced on Church’s throwing error to third base, and only Santana backing up Wright at third stopped McDonald from scoring.
Brandon Phillips hit a 2-2 92mph fastball to left field to drive home McDonald with a sac fly to cut the lead in half, but leftie Jay Bruce popped out to Wright to keep the tying run at second.
That was the final batter Santana would face as Shaun Green came out of the pen to get Edwin Encarnacion to line out to Murphy in left.
Santana threw 99 pitches, 62 for strikes, and he gave up just the one run on three hits and four walks, striking out seven.
Shaun Green pitched a perfect 7th inning for the Mets, getting three ground balls and former Met David Weathers matched him pitch for pitch, getting Castillo, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson and Reyes on ground ball outs on eight pitches.
JJ Putz walked Chris Dickerson with one out in the eighth, but he got sothpaw Joey Votto and All Star slugger Brandon Phillips to end the threat and keep the one-run lead intact.
K-Rod got Jay Brice on a soft tapper back to themound, Encarnacion on a pop-up and Hernandez to strike out swinging.
Other notes: Ryan Church and Carlos Delgado both went 2/4 and David Wright went 1/3 with two walks. Jose Reyes also stole his first base, taking second in the 1st inning against Aaron Harang.
In 2008, the Mets were 4-3 against the Reds, marking the third straight year they have won the head-to-head series. In fact, the Mets have not had a losing record against the Reds since 2001.
On the road against the Reds last year, the Mets split the four-game series 2-2.
Duaner Sanchez got both Mets wins in this series, with Wagner picking up a pair of saves.
Johan Santana is 1-0 in three career starts against the Reds, although he struggled both times out in 2008.
Aaron Harang will face the Mets on Monday. He has faced six of the Mets’ likely started before, but only three of them have more than 10 at bats against him.
Delgado has seen Harang the most, batting 6/21 (.286) against him. Also of note, Castillo is 6/9 with three walks and Wright is 5/7 with a homer and a double.
On Thursday, Maunel will hand the ball to Oliver Perez – a man who has seen plenty of the Reds.