Jose Valverde didn’t enter the New York Mets‘ first game of the year as much as he blasted off into the core of a black hole. In the seventh inning after Dillon Gee tired and exited with two runners on, both Carlos Torres and Scott Rice walked consecutive batters on eight total pitches. After the juice of an early lead evaporated into the strengthening sun and Citi Field’s packed interior fell silent as the vacuum of space, Valverde headed to the mound looking to right the Mets’ quickly floundering spaceship.
A castoff from the 2013 Detroit Tigers, the 36-year-old Valverde was signed to a minor league deal with the Mets in February. A 3.38 spring ERA in 10.2 innings was enough to solidify his place in the rotation as the bullpen cracked and crumbled all around him. A month ago, the plan was for Valverde to provide veteran leadership to a group of young fire-ballers. Suddenly, the hopes of an entire fanbase rest on the Dominican veteran’s right arm; Opening Day only underlined the desperation.
With the bases loaded, the game tied and momentum fully escaped from the Mets’ sails, Valverde stepped to the mound in the afternoon’s most critical moment. He stared down into Travis d’Arnaud’s battered mitt, received the first sign and then proceeded to fan three out of the four batters he faced, bringing tens of thousands of Mets fans back from the brink of an unknown void with every maniacal post-strikeout howl/fist-pump combo. Mission accomplished.
With Bobby Parnell’s health a serious issue for the Mets (it was revealed on Tuesday that Parnell may need surgery for a torn elbow ligament), Valverde will be the new back-end anchor — the man expected to bring order to the Mets’ entropy-plagued bullpen. It’s a tall task, for sure, that may require Valverde to go back in time and become the pitcher with three 40-plus save seasons from 2007 – 2011.
It’s not impossible — just highly unlikely, no matter how desperately the Mets need their new closer to bend a few rules of space and time. Monday’s inspiring performance aside, I’m starting to have a bad feeling about this.