In 2006, the Mets rolled to a division title. The turning point of the season came in early June, during a three-city, ten-game road trip. The Mets had opened up a seven-game bulge in the NL East by late April, but their lead in the division had been halved to a more tenuous 3½-game lead by early June.
New York split the first two games of their long road trip in 2006, but then won each of the remaining eight games, scoring in the first inning of all eight contests. By the time the Mets returned to Shea Stadium, they had increased their lead to 9½ games and had lost sight of every division rival in their rear view mirror. By racing out to quick starts in each game, the Mets increased their chances to win ballgames, and they took advantage of the early leads throughout the road trip and for the rest of the season.
The 2006 Mets scored in the first inning in 61 of their 162 games. They had the lead after one inning 44 times. They won 33 of those 44 games, for a .750 winning percentage. It’s not uncommon for a team to win a ballgame when it gets out to a fast start. Even the 1962 Mets, who finished the year with a 40-120 record, went 16-21 in games in which they held the lead after one inning. Their .432 winning percentage in those games was significantly higher than their overall .250 winning percentage.
That brings us to the curious case of the 2014 Mets. This year’s squad has gotten out to a better-than-expected 15-14 record. However, they have lost three straight following Saturday night’s heartbreaking loss to the Rockies. The Mets scored three runs in the first inning, extended that lead to 6-0 two innings later, then watched the Rockies take the lead in the fifth. New York came back to take a one-run lead in the ninth only to watch Charlie Culberson (who had never homered at Coors Field in 80 career plate appearances) blast a game-winning two-run homer to straightaway center field off Mets “closer” Kyle Farnsworth.
When the Mets scored three runs in the first inning, it marked the 12th time in 29 games they had crossed the plate in an opening frame. But once Charlie Culberson touched home in the ninth inning, the Mets’ record dropped to 3-9 in those dozen affairs. That’s a .250 winning percentage. In other words, the 2014 Mets have had as much of a chance of winning when they score in the first inning as the 1962 Mets had of winning any game. But even the original Mets were able to play better when they scored in the first than this year’s squad.
It’s still early in the season, and the Mets’ awful record when they score first could easily turn around. But it’s become an alarming trend that starting pitchers are having trouble holding early leads and relievers also are experiencing technical difficulties protecting those precious leads.
The 2014 Mets have won 12 of 17 games when they haven’t scored in the first inning. Their luck changes dramatically when they do score in the opening frame. It doesn’t make any sense why this should be true. But it needs to be corrected or else Sandy Alderson’s prediction of 90 wins will prove false.