Returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the Mets made their appearance in style, with Billy Wagner striking out Nomar Garciaparra for the final out to seal a 6-5 victory over the Dodgers at Shea Stadium.
The Mets' offensive attack was paced by Delgado, who was making the first playoff appearance in his 14-year career. Delgado had four hits, including a 470-foot home run in the second inning off Dodgers starter Derek Lowe, and also contributed the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning facing Brad Penny in relief.
"I was very excited," Delgado said. "I mean, I had butterflies in my stomach the first couple innings. I was saying, 'Whoa, what is going on here?' But I was able to kind of control my emotions and just go out and play."
"If you could have written a script, you'd have thought he'd step up today," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's been waiting a long time and kind of waiting for this opportunity, this environment and this stage."
But Delgado wasn't the only one.
Cliff Floyd, one of the longest tenured Mets, hit a fourth-inning solo shot off Lowe, and Wright, the Mets' budding franchise talent, added to the party with a two-run double in the sixth inning and a bloop RBI double in the seventh.
For Mets fans, the outcome surpassed what many had expected, following what seemed to be a string of bad news – first, Pedro Martinez was lost for the postseason and then most of 2007 with tears in his left calf and right rotator cuff, then, 24 hours before Game 1, scheduled starter Orlando Hernandez pulled up lame with a tear in his right calf.
The tide may have turned in the second inning when the Mets executed a rare double play at home plate, with catcher Paul Lo Duca tagging out two Dodgers runners seconds apart.
With two runners on, catcher Russell Martin blasted a drive to right field that hit the wall, shooting directly back to Shawn Green. The right fielder's relay throw was perfectly scooped and fired home by second baseman Jose Valentin, who threw a one-hop strike to Lo Duca to nail Jeff Kent, who had tagged up from second base on the fly ball.
With Lo Duca's Mets teammates screaming and gesturing from feet away, Lo Duca – oblivious to their cries with a sellout crowd of 56,979 also roaring – moved his head just enough to notice J.D. Drew also steaming down the third base line, diving to plant a tag on Drew as he attempted a headfirst slide into the plate.
Lo Duca called the bizarre play "a very good sign," and gave credit to home plate umpire John Hirschbeck and especially to Valentin for the perfect feed throw.
"He came up and threw immediately, and the ball was one-hop, right on the money," Lo Duca said. "I knew we'd have a shot. I was showing the umpire the ball and when I turned, there was J.D. Drew and I tagged him. … They almost caught me sleeping, literally. It was a weird play and it turned out to be a huge play."
Wright said seeing the play develop - and being helpless to do anything about it – was a "bad feeling."
"I was trying to do everything," Wright said. "I wanted to throw my glove at him and try and get his attention to tag that second runner out."
The play reminded many of an Aug. 2, 1985 game between the White Sox and Yankees at Yankee Stadium, when both Bobby Meacham and Dale Berra were banged out at the plate by Carlton Fisk on a Rickey Henderson single. Randolph – who was there – called it "a serious flashback."
History aside, the action elicited a gleeful yell and fist pump from the 25-year-old Maine, who calmed the early nerves of his postseason debut and gave the Mets just what they needed.
"I was nervous, but I actually wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," Maine said. "I didn't want to let that get the better of me. I still knew I had to go out there, execute pitches, throw strikes, get guys out. I just tried to take control and it went all right."
Maine would allow a run-scoring single to former Met Marlon Anderson after the bizarre double play, but it could have been much worse.
"If we didn't get any of those guys out, it'd be a lot different game," Valentin said. "Who knows how John Maine would have reacted after that? It was only the second inning, the guy might get panicked and we'd be forced to use our bullpen sooner."
Maine pitched into the fifth inning and limiting Los Angeles to one run on six hits before yielding to reliever Pedro Feliciano with one out and two men on, leaving with 80 pitches thrown.
The performance came after Randolph once again got in the rookie's face, challenging him to step up – an action Maine would later say he appreciated.
"I don't believe in sugar-coating anything when I talk to my players," Randoph said. "This was the kid's game and he wanted to be a part of it, so show me."
Feliciano struck out Kenny Lofton and Chad Bradford coaxed a ground ball from Garciaparra to end the inning, beginning a sequence in which Mets manager Willie Randolph used six pitchers to seal the victory.
"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people," Lo Duca said. "Believe me. We've been doing it all year. All they've been talking about is our pitching – we don't have this and that. I think we're better than a lot of people think."
Guillermo Mota worked two innings but tired some in the seventh, allowing a two-run double to Garciaparra past a diving Wright as part of a three-run frame, but Aaron Heilman spun a scoreless eighth and Wagner limited Los Angeles to one run in the ninth, taking advantage of a two-run cushion provided by Delgado and Wright.
With Martinez and now Hernandez down, the Mets' relief pitching – which has been a strength all season – figures to be even more of a key through the Mets' run at the World Series. Wagner, the closer, believes his setup men are up to that task.
"We've got to perform and keep getting out there and getting the job done," Wagner said. "We have a lot of pressure to go out there and pitch. Aaron Heilman, Mota and these guys, they've done it all year long. We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing."
"When you lose guys like Pedro and guys like El Duque, it stinks," Lo Duca said. "But you know as a team, you can't go whine and can't do anything about it. Guys have stepped up all year."
CLIFF'S NOTES: Floyd, whose own postseason status was in doubt as recently as last week, rebounded from a chronically sore left Achilles and was gleeful – not only because of the way the Shea Stadium crowd embraced him, though they did, loudly.
"With these fans, I didn't feel myself running around the bases," Floyd said. "I'm telling you, man. A lot of out-of-body experiences going on right now. These fans have stuck with me, my teammates have stuck with me, and I just couldn't be happier with this situation."
Floyd's father, Cliff Floyd Sr., was at the game behind home plate. After Floyd's home run in the fourth inning, the outfielder made an uncharacteristically excited gesture crossing the plate, and Floyd said the presence of his pops had made him do it.
"I drove to the park today and I told him, 'Man, how did we get here?'" Floyd said. "It's like, your mind is so consumed with everything. I think by winning the first game it will definitely take that away."
Floyd pointed to a preceding weekend sweep of the last-place Washington Nationals as a main reason why the team was able to play somewhat relaxed against the Dodgers.
"I think the last few games helped us out in Washington," Floyd said. "We found out who we were. We got back in the swing of things and started playing the way we're capable of playing. It gave us a sense we could relax after those few days off."
The Mets announced the attendance as 56,979, which is the club's largest Division Series crowd, surpassing the previous mark in Game 3 of the 2000 NLDS against the Giants (56,270).