Opening Act: Mets, Randolph Are A Early Success At Home

By Tony McClean
Updated: April 18, 2005

Willie Randolph (12) greets Carlos Beltran in the home opener.

FLUSHING, N.Y. — What a difference a week at home can do for a team and its manager. After opening the season at 1-5 on the road, Willie Randolph’s New York Mets caught lightning in a bottle for seven days. Along the way, they may have served notice that the race in the NL East will indeed be interesting for all involved.

There was enough good, bad, and ugly for all fans of the Amazins’. A 6-1 homestand, including their first six-game winning streak since 2003, saw unheralded starters Kaz Ishii and Eric Heilman more than hold their own against two of the NL’s best pitchers.
Ishii, who acquired by New York from L.A. for Jason Phillips during spring training, battled reigning Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens on April 13. The lefty tossed seven shutouts innings allowing just two hits in a game where New York pulled out an 11-inning 1-0 victory.
Then on Friday facing 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett, Heilman tossed a one-hit shutout in the Mets’ 4-0 win against the Marlins. The win, their fifth straight at the time, evened the team’s record at 5-5.
New York would win again the next day to make it six straight, but on Sunday A.J. Burnett would put an end to the Amazin’s run. The former Met farmhand held New York to four hits in his 5-2 complete game masterpiece.
Despite the loss, Randolph said he was still pleased about the direction his squad is headed, especially following their rocky start. “We got a good dose of home cooking the last few days”, said Randolph. “Having a full house, we’ve been able to feed off the fans the last few days and it was desperately needed.”
“Now we’ll take that feeling with us on the road (two games at Philly and two games at Florida) before we get back here (at Shea) again”.
Early on the fans seem to like what they see. New York had three sellouts in their first seven games, including the last two games of their series with the Marlins. Saturday’s crowd of 55, 351 was the largest since last July 4th (55,437) vs. the Yankees.
Hmmmmmm? The Mets are winning and selling out at Shea. Could that be the real reason why Mount Steinbrenner erupted after another Yankee loss on Sunday?
The emotions of second baseman Kaz Matsui have run the gamut just two weeks into the season. The sophomore infielder was one of the heroes in New York’s home opening win against the Astros. However, the good vibes didn’t last long.
After a couple of misplayed balls in Sunday’s loss, Matsui quickly reclaimed his title as the fan’s favorite whipping boy. In his defense (pardon the pun), Matsui had missed the three previous games due to a scratched left cornea.
The former four-time Japan League Gold Glove shortstop is still experiencing growing pains during his much ballyhooed switch to second. In his first season in the majors last year, Matsui hit fairly well (.272), but his fielding (23 errors) immediately put him behind the eight ball for many Met loyalists.
It got so bad for Matsui that the fans boos were followed by chants of “Miguel Cairo,” the ex-Yankee who played second during Kaz’s three-game absence. However, after the game, a pretty fair second baseman named Randolph stood by the much maligned Matsui.
“I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with him,” Randolph said. “Everything he does is going to be magnified, of course. … He’s got a long way to go, and I’ve said that before. I’m not going to evaluate his progress right away. It’s going to be a couple of years before he becomes a solid second baseman, but he’ll be fine if he keeps working.”
On Friday, April 22nd, the Mets will celebrate Black History Night as several former Negro League players will be honored prior to the 7:10 contest against the Washington Nationals. Expected to attend are Mahlon Duckett, Stanley Glenn, Hal Gould, James Robinson, Bob Scott, and Armando Vasquez.
Duckett, Glenn, Gould and Robinson all played for the Philadelphia Stars. Scott was a member of the New York Black Yankees, while Vasquez played for the New York Cubans. In addition, several video tributes will be shown on the Diamondvision screen between innings commemorating the contributions of African Americans to contemporary society.