MIAMI -- At 11:40 on Sunday morning Francisco Lindor sat at his locker, still wearing his sweater and rolling a golf ball under his bare feet.
“Big day,” he said.
Lindor pointed two lockers down, where Kodai Senga’s jersey hung, an MLB debut patch affixed to its sleeve.
“I’m excited to see him,” Lindor said.
So there was, in fact, a buzz in the room about Senga’s first start.
Baseball people are day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and they don’t always love the narratives that we impose on them.
If the experience of being a Mets fan out in the world over the past few days included thrumming excitement about Senga, the experience of embedding with the team involved a lot of talk about preparing for Jesus Luzardo and the mechanical adjustments Tylor Megill was attempting with his delivery.
Senga himself has been a subtle though positive presence through the season’s early days. He is a prized Steve Cohen acquisition, a $75 million import from Japan who has already made three Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Games.
But he is isolated to some extent by a language barrier. Teammates say that Senga’s English is still extremely limited, though they pick up on flickers of puckish sarcasm and a generally good vibe. And coaches describe a player who does not act like an international star but like a new guy receptive to feedback.
Both Senga and his teammates are active in trying to bridge the cultural gap. After Friday’s game, Senga and his translator, Hiro Fujiwara, walked over to Justin Verlander’s locker and chatted for several minutes.
Asked the next day about the conversation, Senga told SNY, through Fujiwara, “[Verlander] makes it really easy to talk to him, and he teaches me a lot of things.
“It’s hard to tell if I’m getting closer to [teammates], but I try not to have the language barrier affect me at all. I try to maintain communications as much as possible.”
Senga was also interactive with the public during the opening weekend, stopping for autographs when walking down the first base line before Friday’s game. Kid Met fans lined up with their pens and balls, and Senga stayed to sign as many of them as he could.
At 1:10 p.m. on Sunday, the crowd returned the love. That’s when Senga emerged with Fujiwara from the dugout steps to warm up in the outfield; the many fans sitting in that section greeted him with loud cheers.
Forty minutes later, while Marlins starter Trevor Rogers meandered through a 36-pitch first inning, Senga paced the Mets’ dugout, got water, drank some of the water, then paced some more. By 1:55, he was jumping up and down.
That jangly energy followed Senga onto the field at 1:58. Remarkably, he matched Rogers’ 36 pitches, in thrall to his adrenaline and his pitches flying everywhere.
Senga’s first major league “ghost fork” -- the pitch with the fun nickname that dives down from the strike zone like a split-fingered fastball but comes in slower and, according to Lindor’s scouting report from facing it in live batting practice in spring training, more spin -- resulted in a hit by Marlins leadoff hitter Luis Arraez.
The next batter, Jorge Soler, doubled off a 98 mile-per-hour fastball. The next two batters walked and, at 2:10 p.m., Senga experienced his first American mound visit from a pitching coach. This was not going well.
Lindor came over, too, ostensibly to clean his spikes but also to talk.
"A lot of guys kept giving me words of confidence, especially Francisco,” Senga later said. "He did a really good job with that."
The day before, manager Buck Showalter had said, “I want to see what happens when he gets squared up. The first time he throws a pitch that he thinks is a really good pitch and gets squared up, how do you react?”
Here’s how he reacted: the next batter, Yuli Gurriel, struck out on a ghost fork so ghostly that Gurriel lost the grip on his bat. Then Jesus Sanchez fanned on another forkball. Then Jon Berti lined out to Starling Marte in right.
The second inning began like the first. Jacob Stallings led off with a walk, and the next at-bat began with ball one via a pitch clock violation.
Uh-oh. Then: fine. Senga more than settled in. For the rest of his outing, he cruised, leaving it with one out in the sixth inning of the 5-1 Mets win.
All eight of his strikeouts came via the ghost fork. He knows that will have to change if he wants to enjoy a long major league career. But that’s an analysis for another day.
For now, it’s enough to say that the Mets were excited to see Senga, nursed him through a challenging beginning, then enjoyed the show.
And Senga stabilized in time to look exactly like the pitcher about whom they were excited.