Acing Opening Day

After losing their first eight Opening Days from 1962 to 1969, the Mets finally got their first W on the season’s first day in 1970, when they beat the Pirates, 5-3, in 11 innings. From that day forward, they’re 31-9 on Opening Day following today’s game in Cincinnati, and that .775 winning percentage is baseball’s best in that span. Add in those eight losses for a 31-17 mark, and the .646 winning percentage still leads MLB.

Unlike some won-loss records in baseball, this one has some weight to it. Whereas some team-vs.-team records (or pitcher-vs.-team records) are a bit hollow — because the players on both sides change, rendering the numbers little more than uniform-vs.-uniform — the Mets’ Opening Day mark is an indication of just how strong the front of their rotation has been over the past four decades. If the franchise has come to be known for developing a certain type of player over its nearly 50-year existence, starting pitching is it.

A look at their Opening Day starters shows a few Hall of Famers or potential Hall of Famers (and one who was believed ticketed for Cooperstown before derailing his career with substance abuse): Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Tom Glavine and Johan Santana among them. Seaver started 11 openers, including 10 straight from 1968-77; Gooden had eight scattered from 1985-94; Glavine took the ball for four of the five from 2003-07, with Pedro Martinez getting the other one; and Santana has had the last two.

Those five hurlers account for 26 of the 48 openers including today, and with this afternoon’s win, the Mets’ record in those 26 games is 19-8. Also scattered in there are starts by Bobby Ojeda (a win in 1987), David Cone (a win in 1992), Al Leiter (a loss in 1999, wins in 2001 and ’02) and Mike Hampton (a loss in 2000). Those arms don’t belong to journeymen, at least not at that stage of their careers (particularly in Hampton’s case, who was an ace when he arrived via trade but quickly fell to journeyman status when he signed with Colorado). They were all considered solid No. 1 starters, if not traditional aces, and their Opening Day starts led to a 4-2 mark, bringing the team’s record in this selection of games to 23-10.

With that kind of pedigree on the arms the Mets have sent to the hill for the first pitch of the season, it’s no wonder they’ve won more than 75 percent of their season openers since 1970 and 64 percent overall.

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