Bullpen helps preserve win for Santana, Mets

BY foxsports • April 7, 2009

No threats, no frets. That new Mets bullpen sure looked good the first time out.

Francisco Rodriguez and his fellow relievers protected a slim lead for Johan Santana, and New York held on Monday for a 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in their season opener.

Daniel Murphy drove in both Mets runs with a homer and a groundout. And on a raw, cold afternoon, New York's rebuilt bullpen was nearly perfect.

"Phew, that was unbelievable!" Murphy said. "Lights out!"

The Mets are known for their meltdowns the last two seasons, blowing division leads in September. They tried to fix their biggest problem - the balky bullpen - by signing Rodriguez and trading for J.J. Putz at the winter meetings, bringing in two All-Star pitchers with a history of success closing games.

After Santana (1-0) gave up only three hits in 5 2-3 innings, the bullpen allowed one walk the rest of the way in a record-setting performance. The three hits were the fewest allowed by a Mets pitching staff in any opener.

Even the Reds were raving about it.

"They've got a totally different bullpen," manager Dusty Baker said. "They spent a lot of money on it. They've got two closers. They shored up the area they wanted to shore up. You certainly want to get to them before they go there."

No one enjoyed watching it more than Santana, who hasn't lost a game since June 28 but could have more wins along the way. The left-hander saw the bullpen blow five of his leads in the ninth inning last year.

This time, Sean Green, Putz and Rodriguez squashed Cincinnati's lineup, allowing only two balls out of the infield in the final 3 1-3 innings. Putz walked a batter in the eighth, and Rodriguez - who had a major league-record 62 saves for the Angels last season - was perfect in the ninth.

"They deserve all the credit," Santana said. "It's great for us, and it was big for getting the comfort level up."

After striking out Ramon Hernandez to finish it, Rodriguez looked up at the sky and raised both arms in his familiar celebration. Then, he made sure to keep the game ball as a memento of save No. 1 with the Mets.

"That's what they expect from us all year long," said Rodriguez, who got a three-year, $37 million deal from New York. "This game, the bullpen did a tremendous job."

The Reds' run was scored by Darnell McDonald, a 30-year-old outfielder with a total of 21 career games in the majors. He singled off Santana in the sixth and scored on Brandon Phillips' sacrifice fly.

Murphy went him one better.

The 24-year-old outfielder hit a solo homer in the fifth off Aaron Harang, who lost a career-high 17 games last season and opened this season with another one. Murphy, playing in his first big league opener, also drove in another run with a groundout in the sixth.

It was 37 degrees with light rain at first pitch, which was pushed back by 13 minutes because of conditions that felt even worse to players accustomed to 80-degree days in spring training. During one cloudburst, first base umpire Angel Hernandez hiked up a blue facemask, covering everything except the tip of his red nose and his squinting eyes.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who grew up in Ontario, said it was too cold for a Canadian to play ball.

"I never headed outside when it was anything like this," Votto said. "You play hockey in this weather, not baseball."

There was ice - the semi-frozen stuff that fell from the sky intermittently and turned everything in the pitchers' favor. There was nice defense at work as well.

Mets right fielder Ryan Church made a sliding catch of Ramon Hernandez's sinking liner in the second inning, bobbling the ball off his leg before getting it firmly in his glove. Church then threw to first to double up Edwin Encarnacion.

Reds right fielder Jay Bruce threw out David Wright at the plate as he tried to score from second base on Carlos Beltran's single in the fifth inning, getting him even though his throw slowed considerably on the wet infield grass.


Santana has gone 18 starts without a loss. ... The Mets are 31-17 on opening day, the best winning percentage in the majors. They lost their first eight openers, too. ... McDonald played CF in place of Willy Taveras, who has the flu. ... RHP Bronson Arroyo, who had a flare-up of carpal tunnel syndrome during spring training, threw before the game and felt good. The Reds decided to let him make his originally scheduled start on Thursday against the Mets instead of resting for the week. "It felt like I was throwing twice as hard as I normally do," Arroyo said. ... Reds Hall of Famer Frank Robinson rode in the pregame parade through downtown, along with current pitchers Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.

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