'First of many': Mets to give Cohen keepsake

April 7th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Albert Almora Jr. caught the final out of the Mets’ 8-4 win over the Phillies on Tuesday and flipped the baseball to teammate Brandon Nimmo, who carried it into the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park. Eventually, the ball wound up with fellow outfielder Kevin Pillar, who passed it onto manager Luis Rojas as a keepsake.

That is not where the relay will end. On Thursday, Rojas plans to present the ball to Steve Cohen to commemorate his first win as Mets owner.

“The first of many to come,” Rojas said afterward.

“The buzz and the excitement started at the early part of Spring Training,” Smith said. “And it all revolves around him. Obviously when he took over ownership, and the moves he’s made, he’s just been tremendous. Every move he’s made has been great. We’re just excited to see him take over in leadership and to see his passion and his will to want to come and win.”

Unable to attend the Mets’ first three games in person in Philadelphia, Cohen said he intended to watch them on television at home with his family. He will go to Citi Field for the team’s home opener on Thursday, with plans to watch the game from his suite. Cohen said he hopes to interact at the ballpark with fans, many of whom reacted to his purchase of the team with giddiness.

Rojas and others understand how important Cohen and his billions are -- not just to the future of the franchise, but to the contentment of the fan base. That’s why the manager made a point to save Tuesday’s game ball for his boss’ boss, after Almora began the relay that sent it his way.

“It was teamwork bringing it in,” Rojas said, “so we can deliver it to Citi Field for Steve.”

When Rojas and others say they expect Tuesday’s win to be the first of many, they mean it. The victory wasn’t perfect, in large part because of a bullpen that cracked for three runs, a night after allowing five in an Opening Day loss. But plenty of other, more auspicious signs preceded those final few innings. Stroman, whom the Mets are counting on to keep their rotation steady behind Jacob deGrom, recorded 13 of his 18 outs on ground balls. Smith hit a homer in his first appearance of the season and Alonso became the fastest player in Major League history to reach 70 career home runs. Nimmo walked three times. Pillar stole home.

Cohen, who purchased the Mets in November for approximately $2.4 billion, has infused the franchise with an unprecedented sense of optimism since that time. He has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the roster, most recently signing Francisco Lindor to a $341 million extension. He has revamped the front office and bolstered its infrastructure. He has regularly interacted with fans on social media.

But until Tuesday, Cohen had not experienced a victory. The Mets changed that when Marcus Stroman delivered six effective innings against the Phillies, Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso both homered, and the bullpen survived another shaky performance. Moments after Didi Gregorius’ fly ball settled into Almora’s glove at the end of it, Cohen tweeted.

Through it all, Cohen surely watched and enjoyed. Earlier this week, during his own season-opening press conference, Cohen said he expects the Mets to make the playoffs. While he has stopped short of predicting a World Series title in Year 1, many within the organization believe that is possible.

“He shows us on an everyday basis that he wants to help us get better as a team, as an organization, as a club,” Smith said. “As a player, all you can do is just want to run through a wall for him. So I’m super excited to get Steve his first win, and the team is super excited to win a lot more games for him. This is just the first of many for him. We’re all just happy that he’s our owner.”

In the ninth, Pete Alonso crushed his first homer of the season, reaching 70 career homers faster than any player in history (220 games, 11 fewer than Aaron Judge). It was enough for the Mets to survive a second straight shaky bullpen performance and grab their first win of the season.