CLEVELAND — On a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon, the Mets basked in the glory of their first consternation-free victory of the season.
Steven Matz bounced back from the worst start of his career with one of his best, tossing seven shutout innings. Michael Conforto knocked in two runs with a pair of doubles, furthering his grip on his newly earned No. 3 spot in the lineup.
And the Mets beat the Indians, 6-0, clinching their first series victory to ease — at least a little bit — what has been a panic-inducing stumble out of the starting gate.
“It’s encouraging, yes” said manager Terry Collins, who hasn’t been shy about his desire for the Mets to hit their stride. “It’s great to start the road trip this way.”
Even in a relatively stress-free afternoon, Collins’ overarching desperation to steady the Mets (5-6) could be seen late in Sunday’s cakewalk.
In the ninth inning, with a six-run lead, Collins played the matchups with lefty specialist Jerry Blevins. When Francisco Lindor struck out but reached base on a wild pitch, Collins took no chances, summoning setup man Addison Reed to record the final two outs. Even then, the manager braced for trouble. Despite a heavy workload to start the season, Jeurys Familia warmed up in the bullpen. But Collins didn’t need to pull the fire alarm, not on a day on which even the sun seemed to take the Mets’ side.
The Mets took a 6-0 lead after two innings, thanks to some help from Indians centerfielder Rajai Davis. Twice in the second inning, he lost a fly ball in the high sky. The first miscue gave Curtis Granderson a rally-starting triple with two outs.
Asdrubal Cabrera followed by catching the Indians napping with a two-out push bunt to score Granderson. Conforto then rifled a run-scoring double past first baseman Mike Napoli.
When Davis lost another one in the glare — this time a Yoenis Cespedes fly ball that became a run-scoring double — the Mets had built a six-run cushion.
“It was really nice getting those runs early,” said Matz, who allowed three hits and struck out a career-high nine. “I can just kind of relax and go out there and pitch.”
The Long Island lefty entered the game with a 37.80 ERA, a lingering scar from his previous outing, in which he recorded just five outs. But he sliced more than 30 runs off that figure by the time he walked off the mound at Progressive Field.
A sense of stability was much-needed after a tumultuous opening homestand, in which Collins and the Mets appeared to crack under the pressure of great expectations. After a series split with the Royals to start the season, the Mets dropped two of three against both the Phillies and Marlins, division rivals.
That lackluster start looked even more startling when compared with the Nationals, who have started the year 9-2.
But Sunday’s win gave the Mets three in their last four games, and some momentum they can take for the remainder of a three-city road trip. The schedule serves up meetings with two more NL East foes: the Phillies and the Braves.
As an added bonus, both series will come in hitter-friendly ballparks, fortunate timing for an offense that has come to life. Conforto’s presence in a reshuffled lineup appears to have played a role.
In three games since being slotted in the third spot, where he’s benefited from the protection of hitting ahead of Cespedes, Conforto is 5-for-12 with three doubles, a homer, and three RBIs. He leads the Mets in extra-base hits.
Said Conforto: “It’s been a good few days.”