NEW YORK — The near-certainty of the New York Mets opening their season with a victory was clinched by the team’s biggest uncertainty going into the 2020 campaign.
It was a happy return to Major League Baseball and to the New York Mets for slugger Yoenis Céspedes on Friday, whose seventh-inning solo home run was the difference as the Mets defeated Atlanta 1-0 in an empty Citi Field, spectator-less because of the restrictions enforced by the league because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The shot by Céspedes, playing in his first game since 2018, is the first statement of what may turn into a redemption tour for the two-time All-Star. Surgeries on both heels sidelined him for the majority of 2018 and a broken ankle suffered in an accident at his ranch in his native Cuba ruled him out of 2019. Cespedes’s return to the active roster also came with a restructured contract, and the beginning of his contract year provided the perfect ending for the Mets’ eighth consecutive opening day victory.
“It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Céspedes said through an interpreter. “To be able to have a moment where I played and also hit the home run that decided the game, I don’t have words for a situation like that.”
Céspedes’ dinger made a winner of manager Luis Rojas in his Major League managerial debut.
“[Yoenis has] been waiting to get healthy, to get back into a lineup, to get back into playing,” Rojas said. “And then he does that.”
Mets starter Jacob deGrom did today what he has done since the beginning of his career, dominating Atlanta in his second-career Opening Day start with eight strikeouts over five scoreless innings. Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson and Edwin Díaz completed the team shutout, with Lugo striking out three in two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh to earn the victory.
The five scoreless innings by deGrom extends his scoreless innings streak to 28, the longest active scoreless streak in the majors.
Atlanta starter Mike Soroka, who made the All-Star Game as a rookie last year and became the youngest opening day starter for the franchise since the turn of the 20th century, matched deGrom’s zeroes, going six scoreless innings while striking out four, allowing four his and no walks. Chris Martin relieved Soroka to begin the seventh, and he got Michael Conforto to fly out to center to start the inning before allowing Céspedes’ homer to left.
Only five Atlanta batters reached base, with Lugo striking out Austin Riley with Ozzie Albies on second base to end the sixth. One inning later, and with Dansby Swanson on first, Lugo ended the inning by striking out Atlanta star Ronald Acuña Jr.
New York is now a major league best 39-20 in Opening Day games, and the win moves them to within one of the record for most consecutive seasons starting with a win on Opening Day.