Mets 11, Padres 2

Nothing about the New York Mets on Monday resembled the second

half of last season.

Then again, opening day has often been their biggest highlight

of the year.

Jonathon Niese stepped nicely into his new role as No. 1 starter

and Collin Cowgill’s grand slam capped a splashy New York debut in

an 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres.

”What a great day,” Cowgill said. ”We’re looking forward to

keeping this going.”

Handed the opening day assignment in place of injured Johan

Santana, Niese enjoyed a big afternoon with both his arm and bat.

He breezed into the seventh inning against a Padres lineup missing

slugger Chase Headley to a broken thumb and catcher Yasmani Grandal

to a testosterone suspension.

”The adrenaline was pumping, I’m not going to lie,” Niese

said. ”As far as the anxiety, it really wasn’t much.”

Marlon Byrd had a pair of RBI singles and fellow Mets newcomer

John Buck was in the middle of three rallies as New York improved

baseball’s best opening day record to 34-18 (.654) despite dropping

its first eight openers.

The Mets have won 20 of their last 22 season openers at

home.

”So far, so good,” a smiling David Wright said. ”It was good

to kind of bust out offensively and get some breathing room for

Jon.”

Niese had a perfect day at the plate himself, tying his career

high with two hits. He had an RBI single in the second off an

ineffective Edinson Volquez (0-1), then drew a leadoff walk and

scored in a three-run fourth.

New York scored nine runs with two outs and went 7 for 14 with

runners in scoring position after batting .246 in those situations

last season, 20th in the majors. The three new additions to the

lineup – Cowgill, Byrd and Buck – were a combined 6 for 14 with

seven RBIs and five runs.

They provided a welcome change for a team that got off to an

encouraging start last year before going 28-48 after the All-Star

break in its fourth straight losing season (74-88).

”If I was going to draw it up, this would be about what it

looks like and feels like,” Buck said about his Mets debut. ”It

definitely helped me settle in a little easier.”

With the Yankees hosting the rival Boston Red Sox across town,

the Mets announced a sellout crowd of 41,053 at windy Citi Field,

where the Padres won the ballpark’s first game in 2009. The last

time two New York teams opened at home on the same day was April

17, 1956, when it was the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers,

according to STATS.

Wright received a warm ovation when he was introduced as the

fourth Mets captain since their inception in 1962. He stole two

bases and made a diving play at third base in his first game since

signing a $138 million, eight-year contract – the richest in team

history.

Byrd and Buck each had an RBI single in the third. Cowgill

doubled to key the fourth inning, which included a run-scoring

groundout by Wright and an RBI single by Daniel Murphy on his 28th

birthday.

Volquez, making his third consecutive opening day start, helped

the Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic last month.

But he lasted only three-plus innings Monday and fell to 0-5 in six

starts against the Mets.

”I was off a little bit,” Volquez said. ”I got behind in the

count and they hit the ball pretty good.”

The 26-year-old Cowgill, batting leadoff after winning the

center field job this spring, hit his first career slam off Brad

Bach in the seventh to make it 11-2. The only other opening day

slam in Mets history was hit by Todd Hundley on April 26, 1995, at

Colorado.

”I’m not sure I’ve been around a guy who competes like this guy

does,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. ”Today was a good start

for him and everybody else.”

Cowgill was acquired from Oakland in a December trade. Still

wearing eye black long after the final out, he acknowledged having

jitters for his first opening day start in the majors. But his

drive to left gave the Mets their most runs since Niese beat

Philadelphia 11-1 on July 3 last year.

”Just a humbling experience today. Very grateful for it,” he

said.

Buck called the 5-foot-9 Cowgill ”a little spark plug.”

”He plays like his hair’s on fire. That’s what we need,” the

catcher said.

With his wife, parents and two brothers in the stands, Niese

(1-0) gave up Carlos Quentin’s run-scoring single and Yonder

Alonso’s solo homer before walking off to a standing ovation with

two outs in the seventh. Feeling strong, the fast-working lefty

wasn’t thrilled about coming out of the game after 101 pitches.

”He was moving the ball around. He was throwing his cutters and

curveballs for strikes,” Alonso said. ”He kept everybody off

balance and got ahead of guys. … So we just have to be a little

more aggressive.”

Mets reliever Scott Rice, making his big league debut after 14

seasons in the minors, struck out two in a perfect ninth.

”It’s one of the great stories,” Collins said. ”I just hope

he absorbed the whole thing. … I’m real proud of him.”

NOTES: Touted Padres prospect Jedd Gyorko made his major league

debut. He stranded four runners in his first two at-bats, then

doubled in the sixth for his first hit. … Santana, the one-time

Mets ace, is scheduled for another surgery Tuesday that he hopes

can save his career. The left-hander re-tore the anterior capsule

in his pitching shoulder. … The Mets honored hundreds of

Hurricane Sandy responders and volunteers in a pregame ceremony.

There was a moment of silence for victims of the storm and the

December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. … Rusty Staub, a

member of the Mets’ Hall of Fame, threw out the first pitch on his

69th birthday as the club celebrated the 40th anniversary of its

1973 pennant. … Ike Davis went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts.