Mets fall behind early but rally falls short as Padres win Citi Field debut

NEW YORK -- The place looked gorgeous. The Mets looked lost.

Jody Gerut christened Citi Field with a leadoff homer -- the only time that's happened in major league history -- and the San Diego Padres spoiled New York's first game in its glittering new ballpark with a 6-5 victory Monday night.

Pedro Feliciano balked in the go-ahead run and the Mets made several costly mistakes, opening Citi Field the same way they closed Shea Stadium: with a dud.

"It's bittersweet," David Wright said. "Winning will do a lot more than the park."

Gerut's shot off Mike Pelfrey marked the first time that the first batter homered in the opening game at a big league ballpark, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Very cool," Gerut said. "Maybe at the end of the season when I look back on this, I'll have a greater sense of what happened here. But at the time, all I'm thinking is that it put us ahead."

Wright rallied New York from an early four-run hole with a three-run homer that tied it, but it wasn't enough. Duaner Sanchez and Heath Bell, both former Mets relievers, closed out the fifth straight win for surprising San Diego, expected to be one of baseball's worst teams this year.

Adrian Gonzalez also homered for the Padres, who improved to 6-2.

The Mets are looking for more success at $800 million Citi Field than they had at big Shea, where they spent 45 seasons that produced two World Series championships -- and consecutive September collapses the past two years.

The Mets lost to Florida in the Shea finale last season, eliminating them from playoff contention. They haven't been any better in their stadium openers -- New York dropped its first game at the old Polo Grounds (1962) and at Shea Stadium (1964), both by 4-3 scores to Pittsburgh.

Wide-eyed fans filed in Monday through the stately Jackie Robinson Rotunda, many snapping photos and searching for souvenirs only steps from where Shea Stadium was razed to make room for Citi Field's parking lot.

Pregame ceremonies included Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and former New York catcher Mike Piazza walking in together from the bullpen, both wearing Mets jerseys. Seaver threw out the first pitch to Piazza, a strike, and pumped his fist.

Both players autographed the ball, which is headed to the Hall of Fame.

With its intricate brickwork and charming archways, Citi Field was designed to invoke the warmth of Ebbets Field, beloved home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913-57.

Even the team mascot, Mr. Met, has his own room under the stands.

"It's impressive. It's a nice place. It's such a stark, dramatic change from Shea Stadium," said Padres Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, now an executive vice president and senior adviser for San Diego.

The Mets tested out the cozy ballpark with two exhibition games April 3-4 against Boston. But this was the real thing, and it certainly didn't go as planned.

Gerut pulled Pelfrey's third pitch down the right-field line, stunning a sold-out crowd of 41,007. The first hit at Shea Stadium also was a home run, by Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell off "Fat Jack" Fisher on April 17, 1964.

"That's probably the only place in the yard where I can get it out. This park plays pretty big," Gerut said.

Indeed, Wright and Carlos Beltran hammered long drives to center that Gerut caught near the fence, balls that probably would have left most big league parks -- including Shea.

Pelfrey looked out of sorts all night in his team's new digs. He caught a cleat on the mound in mid-delivery, sending the 6-foot-7 right-hander tumbling awkwardly to the turf in the second inning with Padres starter Walter Silva at the plate.

Pelfrey wasn't hurt, so he tried to wave off manager Jerry Manuel and a team trainer. They came out to check on him anyway.

"I asked them if the game was on TV. It was pretty embarrassing," Pelfrey said.

Silva then slapped a two-out single, sparking a three-run rally that included David Eckstein's two-run double and Brian Giles' soft RBI single.

Gonzalez gave San Diego a 5-1 cushion with a fifth-inning homer against Pelfrey that caromed off the screen attached to the right-field foul pole.

"We just haven't seen the life in those pitches," Manuel said. "We'll have to really sit down and see if there's anything wrong with him."

The Mets finally revved up their fans in the bottom of the fifth. Daniel Murphy hit an RBI single and Wright reached down to yank a full-count pitch over the retired numbers above the 364-foot sign on the left-field fence.

The homer tied it at 5 and chased Silva, a 32-year-old rookie. It also raised -- for the first time during a game -- the shiny red apple nestled behind the center-field wall. The old apple was a staple at Shea, weather-beaten but always a favorite touch for fans.

The Mets, however, gave away the decisive run in the sixth.

With Brian Stokes (0-1) pitching, Luis Rodriguez opened the inning with a long fly to right that glanced off Ryan Church's glove for a three-base error. Two outs later, Feliciano balked home a run that put the Padres up 6-5.

Murphy dropped a deep fly to left on Sunday in Florida, leading to two runs in a 2-1 loss.

"Right now it just seems like we're a little off. We're not playing a complete game," Wright said.

Edward Mujica (1-1) retired his only batter for his first major league win. Sanchez worked a perfect eighth and Bell pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save.

Game notes
Across town, the new Yankee Stadium opens Thursday with a game against Cleveland. ... Gary Sheffield is slated to get his first Mets start Wednesday night in right field.