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"I knew it would be emotional," Seaver said later, "but I didn't think it would be that emotional. I had to block out a lot of it because I was pitching, but if I wasn't, I would have cried. I know my mother lost it."
The time came for first-ball ceremonies, and New York Governor Mario Cuomo, the former Pirate farmhand, did the honors with New York City Mayor Edward Koch beside him. Seaver would outlast both Koch, who left in the first inning, and Cuomo, who didn't make it past the fourth.
Just before the game started, Seaver went the length of the Mets dugout, shaking hands with everybody on the bench, wishing each of them luck, pumping them up. "That was what really gave me the chills," said Hamilton. Then Seaver sprinted to the mound.
The first batter was Pete Rose. The first pitch was a strike. The second pitch was a 1969 fastball that Rose missed. "I didn't know he could throw that hard anymore," said Rose. Four pitches later, Seaver struck him out on a slider, detonating the Shea faithful.
In one of his last appearances as a Met in 1977, Seaver had struck out Rose three times. That was six long years ago. Dave Kingman, who was traded on the same day as Seaver, has been with four different clubs since then; he, Hodges, Craig Swan and John Stearns are the only current Mets who were with New York when Seaver left for Cincinnati.
In 1981 Seaver was 14-2 in the strike-shortened season, but last year he was Tom Terrible, 5-13 with a 5.50 ERA. That also made him Tom Available, and at the winter meetings the Mets agreed to a trade that sent the Reds Pitcher Charlie Puleo and two minor-leaguers. The teams had to get Seaver's permission, and he was happy to oblige. "I wanted to be closer to my family," he said. "I remember my days with the Mets fondly, but my family was my first consideration."
The Mets wanted him for his promotional value—he's living, breathing proof of the team's two National League pennants and one world championship—and because of his knowledge and attitude; he still looks and acts 25. They don't expect him to win his fourth Cy Young Award. And unlike Montana, the bat boy, they don't expect him to help them win a trip to the World Series. "I can still give some good starts," says Seaver. "If we can get consistent starting pitching, if we can keep the team in the game, every part of this team will improve. It's tougher to hit and field when you're down 7-2 than when the score is close."
Seaver kept them as close as he could on Opening Day. His only real trouble came in the first after he walked Joe Morgan. Morgan went to second on a pickoff throw that Kingman couldn't catch, and although Seaver got the error, it should be pointed out that Kingman's fielding grace approximates his social grace. Morgan went to third on a groundout, but Seaver got Mike Schmidt to fly out.
Seaver gave up a single to Tony Perez in the second, but a double play killed the threat. He retired the Phillies in order in the third and fourth. Perez singled again in the fifth, but Seaver got the next three batters. In the sixth he struck out Steve Carlton, but in doing so he felt a twinge in his left thigh. He caught the eye of Manager George Bamberger and pointed to his thigh. The bullpen was alerted.
He struck out Rose again, this time on a changeup. "I can't remember the last time I struck out twice in a game," said Rose. "I must have missed only two balls all spring." Morgan singled, but while trying to stretch the hit into a double, he was thrown out by his old Cincy teammate George Foster. Seaver's knee was good and dirty now.