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Cowgill, Niese carry Mets to Opening Day win

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- With the New York Mets still emerging from the struggles they've endured - both on the field and on the financial ledger - since moving to Citi Field in 2009, their recent off-season acquisitions have lacked the big names and the pizzazz that Mets fans grew accustomed to the previous two decades.

But the Mets' latest low-profile additions made plenty of headlines and contributions Monday.

Collin Cowgill capped an impressive Opening Day for Mets newcomers with a seventh-inning grand slam as they cruised to an 11-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Monday.

"It's a great first step," Cowgill said. "Just an all-around great team win for us. Everybody swung the bat well, our pitching staff was outstanding. Lot of fun today."

Cowgill and fellow winter imports Marlon Byrd (minor league free agent signing) and John Buck (acquired in the trade that sent Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays) combined to go 6-for-14 with five runs scored and seven RBI. The trio were at the center of all four of the Mets' multi-run innings.

In addition, new Mets pitchers Brandon Lyon, Scott Atchison and Scott Rice combined to throw 2 1/3 hitless innings in relief of starter and winner Jonathon Niese.

"New York, of all places, to get off to a good start like that obviously helps with the momentum, helps you get a little more comfortable, a little more acclimated," Buck said. "If we're going to draw it up, this is the way we want to do it."

Nor could Cowgill have come up with a better script for his first big league Opening Day.

Cowgill, whom the Mets acquired from the Athletics in December, won the wide-open competition for an outfield spot (only one returning Mets outfielder, Lucas Duda, had as many as 300 at-bats last year) and the Opening Day assignment at leadoff by hitting .303 in Grapefruit League action.

"Collin Cowgill took the opportunity and ran with it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Like we talked about all spring: You provide chances now, what do you want to do with them? And certainly he got us off to a big start today."

Cowgill doubled in the fourth to key a three-run inning that chased Padres starter Edinson Volquez before his seventh inning laser just over the left field wall turned a rout into a laugher.

Cowgill's grand slam was the second Opening Day grand slam in team history. Todd Hundley hit a grand slam against the Rockies in the 1995 opener.

"It's a special day -- my first time being in an Opening Day lineup, so a lot of jitters," Cowgill said. "Looking forward to keeping this going."

In addition to Cowgill, Byrd and Buck, three other players had two hits apiece for the Mets, including David Wright, who had a run scored, an RBI and two stolen bases in his first game since signing an eight-year, $138 million contract in December and being named the fourth captain in team history on March 21.

Niese accounted for as many runs as he allowed by going 2-for-2 with an RBI, a run scored and a walk. He allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four in his first Opening Day start.

Niese retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced before he was lifted after 101 pitches. Niese, who was thrust into the role of no. 1 starter when Johan Santana re-injured his left shoulder, has thrown at least six innings in 21 straight starts dating back to last June 3.

"He's stepped into a role now where he kind of leads that rotation," Collins said.

The Mets collected two runs apiece in the second and third innings. The second inning rally began with two outs and nobody on while the third inning outburst began with two outs and a runner at third.

"To the Mets' credit, they got a lot of clutch hits," Padres manager Bud Black said.

Volquez threw just 40 of his 79 pitches for strikes. Brad Brach was charged with all four of the Mets' seventh inning runs.

Carlos Quentin had an RBI single in the third for the Padres while Yonder Alonso homered in the sixth.

"There wasn't much offense," Black said. "We got beat pretty solidly on both sides."

NOTES: The Mets improved to 34-18 on Opening Day while the Padres fell to 20-25. The Mets have the best Opening Day record in history and have won 34 of their last 44 season openers. ... Wright became the third Mets player to swipe at least two bases on Opening Day. Mookie Wilson had two steals against the Cardinals on Apr. 9, 1985, while Darryl Strawberry had two steals against the Cardinals on Apr. 3, 1989. ... Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko became the 28th rookie in team history to start on Opening Day and went 1-for-4 with a double. Gyorko was selected by the Padres in the second round of the 2010 draft and hit .319 in 334 minor league games. ... Volquez started his third straight Opening Day and his second in a row for the Padres. He is the first San Diego pitcher to start on Opening Day in consecutive seasons since Jake Peavy made four straight Opening Day starts from 2006-2009. ... Shawn Marcum, whom the Mets placed on the disabled list Monday retroactive to March 22 with a sore neck, is scheduled to pitch a simulated game in Port St. Lucie on Tuesday. As long as he has no setbacks, he could start for the Mets against the Marlins on Sunday. ... Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who suffered a broken left thumb on March 17, fielded soft ground balls before the game Monday. Headley hopes to return to the Padres by early May.
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