The Mets' magic number to clinch the NL East is now 157. Daniel Murphy plated Mike Baxter from third base with a line single in the bottom of the ninth as the Mets beat the Washington Nationals, 4-3, Monday night at Citi Field to improve to 4-0. Afterward, Murphy received a shaving cream pie to the face from Justin Turner, which stung. Whipped cream is preferred, but could not immediately be located.
The Mets started eight homegrown players -- the most in a non-September/October game since April 19, 1990.
With a win Tuesday as Dillon Gee opposes Ross Detwiler, the Mets would match the franchise's best start to a season, established in 1985.
Tuesday's news reports:
• Kirk Nieuwenhuis belted a two-run homer to right field off Edwin Jackson that tied the score at 3 in the fourth. It was Nieuwenhuis' first career major league homer and RBIs. "I know that was a double last year," Nieuwenhuis said, referring to Citi Field's revised dimensions. "I wasn't sure when I hit it."
Nieuwenhuis has had a whirlwind week. He was held back in Port St. Lucie, Fla., while his teammates departed for Triple-A Buffalo nine days ago, then was finally cleared to depart to join the Bisons when it looked like Andres Torres would be ready for the season. But before Buffalo's season started Thursday night, Torres already had re-injured his left calf in the Mets' season-opening matinee. Nieuwenhuis played that night for Buffalo, going 0-for-2 with two walks, then received word of the promotion from Wally Backman. He now is manning center field against right-handed pitching for the Mets.
Torres will miss more than the minimum two weeks on the DL, according to Collins, so Nieuwenhuis is sticking around a while. Watch video of the rookie reacting postgame here. Read more in the Post, Daily News and Newsday.
• Ike Davis will visit team doctors Tuesday to determine the state of his suspected case of valley fever, which was flagged during a spring-training physical. Davis said he does not have any obvious symptoms, but will be able to better gauge the severity after blood tests and a look at his lungs. Terry Collins plans to rest the 0-for-15 Davis periodically to avoid overtaxing him and inflaming the illness. Davis will not start tonight's game against the left-handed Detwiler. Read more in the Post, Star-Ledger and Newsday.
• Jared Diamond in the Journal notes that hitting coach Dave Hudgens is emphasizing taking pitches and driving up opposing starters' pitch counts -- unless there is something early in the count to pounce on. "Hit early in the count only to your strengths," Scott Hairston told Diamond about what Hudgens teaches. "If the first pitch you see is on the outside corner, and your strength is inside, you don't want to go after that pitch." Writes Diamond:
So far, the message stuck. In their first three games of the season, the Mets saw 4.02 pitches per plate appearance, good enough for third in all of baseball. Last year, they ranked 20th in this category at 3.79. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Mets won all three games. "It's a team-wide philosophy," Murphy said. "Get something you can handle, get something you can split a gap with." Murphy appeared to embrace the strategy. He saw 4.57 pitches per plate appearance during the Mets' sweep of Atlanta, after averaging 3.73 pitches per plate appearances a year ago. Murphy began the year 5 for 13 with three doubles.
• Columnist Jeff Bradley in the Star-Ledger focuses on Ruben Tejada. The shortstop laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt that ended up getting thrown away and moved Baxter from first to third in the ninth, setting up Murphy's game-winning hit. Writes Bradley:
The entire sequence of Tejada’s ninth-inning at-bat is an example of the trust Collins has placed in the kid who’s been asked to replace Jose Reyes at short. After Mike Baxter drew a leadoff walk, Tejada was given the task of advancing him to second with a bunt. But when Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman came charging hard on the first pitch two pitches, a ball and a called strike, Tejada did what he was taught. “He slashed at the ball,” said Collins, “to make sure the defense wasn’t going to crash in on him.” When Tejada fouled that pitch back, Collins put the bunt back on. “I knew he’d get it down,” said Collins. “I know what Ruben can do, how he can handle the bat.”
Collins also heaped praise on Tejada to columnist John Harper in the Daily News. The manager had expressed disappointment during spring training that Tejada did not spend the offseason working out in Port St. Lucie, but there wasn't anger with the shortstop choosing to remain home in Panama. “He just knows how to play the game,’’ Collins told Harper. “I love the way he plays. When I got on him back in spring training, I wasn’t really [ticked] at him, I just wanted him to understand how important he was to this team, how important it was that we were all going to do this together this season. I wanted him there early to work with Murph, and I was disappointed when he wasn’t there. But I didn’t have any doubt that he would step in and play well for us because nothing bothers him. He just plays the game.’’
• Columnist David Lennon in Newsday offers this analysis of Pelfrey's performance, which included three runs allowed on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings:
By choosing to tender Pelfrey a contract this winter -- a no-brainer move, really -- the Mets set the going rate on durability at $5.7 million. At the minimum, they hope that gets them in the neighborhood of 30 starts and 200 innings. Wins and ERA don't really enter the discussion. The Mets talk of Pelfrey as if he is the Clydesdale of the rotation: A big, sturdy plow horse of a pitcher that munches innings and handles the heavy lifting over the course of a long, hot season. Often, it's not pretty. That was the case again Monday night as Pelfrey got smacked around early, endured a 10-hit, three-run barrage by the Nationals and still got two outs deep into the sixth inning. By the time manager Terry Collins fetched him, Pelfrey had thrown 104 pitches.
• Darrell Ceciliani had a walk-off homer for St. Lucie, while Luis Nieves drove in the lone run, in the 12th, in a 1-0 win for Savannah. Read the full minor league recap here.
• N.R. Kleinfeld in the Times gets fan reaction to the 4-0 start. “It’s heaven,” workman's compensation lawyer Neil Abramson told the newspaper. “I just hope it lasts longer than the eight days of Passover.”
TRIVIA: Murphy now has two career walk-off RBIs. Who was the opposing pitcher in the first instance -- on Aug. 16, 2009 against the San Francisco Giants?
Monday's answer: Before the Mets swept a three-game series from Atlanta to open this season, the last time they had swept a series from a division opponent of tw0 or more games came in 1987. That year, the Mets opened the season by winning a two-game series from the NL East's Pittsburgh Pirates.