As Usual, Mets Ace Rises To Occasion

By Mike Bauman, MLB.com
Original article HERE.

ST. LOUIS -- So you're starting the season on the road, against the defending World Series champions, the same guys who rained all over your parade last October. How can you achieve a happy beginning in these trying circumstances?

In the case of the New York Mets, two words come to mind: Tom Glavine.

Here were the Mets beginning the new season in Busch Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, the club that stomped on their dreams in the 2006 National League Championship Series. Here were the Cardinals on the Opening Night of Baseball, 2007, in full celebratory mode.

The Cardinals had extensive pregame ceremonies that included the usual Clydesdales, except that the eight massive horses were not only pulling the usual beer wagon, but were also hauling the World Series trophy. The 2006 championship banner was unfurled beyond the center-field bleachers. Above the video board in right, a new World Series championship flag was added, joining the other nine won by the St. Louis franchise.

Billy Bob Thornton, a Cardinals fan from childhood, as it turns out, helped to narrate the festivities. Many, many Cardinals from championships past were introduced to long and loving applause. This really had the look and feel of a splendid evening for the home team, a nice convergence of past and present triumphs.

And then Tom Glavine took the mound for the Mets and gave the Cardinals nothing for the first five innings. This is what the great ones do -- they change the night, the game, the result, the total environment, simply by showing up and doing what they do best.

The Mets' defense was sharp in support of Glavine, and by the time he finally yielded a run in the sixth, it was too late in the day for the Cards, as the Mets had been pounding on St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter with some regularity. The pitching duel you might have expected with these two starters had turned into a one-way street.

And once you get beyond the notion that the Cardinals have been celebrating since October, while the Mets have been figuring how it all went so well for so long and then went so wrong, the aspect of Glavine beating anybody has no particular shock value.

This was his 291st victory in a Major League uniform. He is about to stroll into pitching immortality and he is going to make it look routine. The circumstances, the celebrations, the Cardinals themselves -- any of it or all of it taken together was not enough to derail Tom Glavine on this April night. The Cardinals managed some threats against the Mets' bullpen after Glavine's departure, but mustered no more runs, and the New Yorkers were 6-1 winners.

In fact, even with Carpenter pitching for St. Louis, the surprise probably would have come only if Glavine had lost. He is now 19-6 against the Cardinals, and this is not like being 19-6 against any old team. The Cardinals have finished lower than second place just once in this decade.

This probably was not Glavine at his absolute best, but Glavine at "good enough" is still far better than most.

"I thought he threw the ball well," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "I don't think it was his 'A' game, but it was obviously good enough."

"I'm not totally thrilled with it," Glavine said of his performance. "There's parts of it that I know I can do better going into the next one. But the good part was, when I had to make pitches, I did. I was behind in the count a little bit more than I like to be, and I didn't think I was as good with my fastball as I wanted to be. My stuff was good. My location was OK."

It ought to be noted that the opposition's assessment of Glavine's work was much more glowing than his own.

"I thought he was better than ever," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

Glavine saw a portion of the Cardinals' pregame celebration, but it struck him in a way that was more wistful than vengeful.

"I watched it a little bit when I was getting ready in the training room," Glavine said. "But having been there, I appreciate it. I know how exciting it is to do that and to be a part of that.

"There's no question that for us as a group, it's a little bit disappointing that it wasn't us. It could very easily have been us, but it wasn't. So maybe it's the kind of thing that you watch, knowing that when the season is over for us, that's what we want to be doing.

"But they deserve it. They're champions and they deserve their due. I've been through it and I know it's a lot of fun, and it's the kind of thing that everybody in here wants to be experiencing come Opening Day next year. If you watch it and it motivates you, fine."

With Tom Glavine pitching the way that he can pitch, the notion of the New York Mets reaching the top of the baseball world seems to take on a much more plausible quality.

If Opening Night can set a tone for what is to come, the tone Tom Glavine set for the Mets was: "Not this time, Redbirds." That's a solid beginning for the Mets, particularly against the only National League club that was able to spoil their party in 2006.