Vince Velasquez was four years old when Bartolo Colon made his major-league debut — probably too young to remember the wiry 23-year-old with a nasty fastball or his precipitous rise to stardom.
Instead, Velasquez — 23, and, as he proved Saturday, suitably nasty in his own right — met the Bartolo Colon of today: a 42-year-old wonder wearing short sleeves in the blustery cold who throws a fastball in the high 80s. And, of course, gives the Mets every chance to win.
Youth went toe-to-toe with experience Saturday night and Velasquez came out with the victory, but just barely. Ryan Howard’s fifth-inning home run was all the scoring in the most unorthodox of pitching duels and the Phillies held on to beat the Mets, 1-0, at Citi Field for the first victory of their season.
“He had a great start after throwing a lot of pitches at the beginning of the game,” Colon said of the youngster. “He settled down and threw a great game.”
Yoenis Cespedes, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, was booed in the eighth after striking out swinging against David Hernandez. Lucas Duda also struck out three times as the three and four batters went a combined 1-for-8. The Mets didn’t have a single batter reach third base. Asdrubal Cabrera, hitting second, went 2-for-4 with a double.
“It’s tough to swing the bat on cold nights and the pitcher has a distinct advantage,” manager Terry Collins said. “But they haven’t swung the bats very good yet, so we’re not making any excuses.”
With the loss, Colon remains one behind Pedro Martinez with 218 career wins; Martinez is second on the all-time wins list for Dominican-born players.
Colon struck out three of the first five batters to face him and had six strikeouts — all looking — before Howard turned on a 1-and-1 fastball and drilled it into the leftfield bleachers for a solo home run to lead off the fifth. Colon began to labor after that, allowing a single to Cameron Rupp that was erased on a double play, and a double to Peter Bourjos before Velasquez struck out to end the threat.
The Mets got runners to second base in the first, third, fifth and seventh, but all were stranded. In the third, Cabrera stroked a curveball to left for a one-out double before Velasquez struck out Cespedes swinging and Duda looking. Velasquez, in only his eighth major-league start, was sharp in his 2016 debut. He struck out a career-high nine batters over six innings and gave up only three hits and three walks.
Colon, meanwhile, showed exactly why the Mets found him so valuable. He allowed five hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over six innings.
“Everything was good,” he said through an interpreter. “I thank God I was ready for the opportunity today . . . The wind was going and as the wind goes, my pitches were going.”
He threw 90 pitches, 60 for strikes, and added a nifty over-the-shoulder catch on Freddy Galvis’ infield pop-up in the sixth.
He even almost legged out an infield single in the second.
Said Colon of the catch: “I thought I was the only one who had the opportunity to catch it, so I made the play.”
And the maybe hit? “No. No,” he said with a wry smile. “I’m not that fast of a runner. My job is to do my job on the mound.”
At least in that respect, mission accomplished.