I hadn't been to a game in well over a month for one reason or another. Usually I don't miss the entire month of June, but things happen. Tuesday night's game against the Reds was the next game up on my package, and there was no way in hell I was missing it, no matter who was on the field that night. Turned out it was Johan Santana starting for the Mets. I had only seen Santana a couple of times in '08 and just about missed him completely in '09. But as it seems every year that there's usually one guy who starts most of the games I go to in a given season, such has it been with Santana in 2010. Tuesday's game was my 8th of the season, and the 3rd time I've seen Santana.
If there was ever a night to see Santana, last night was the night.
You don't think much about these things early on in the game, and I certainly didn't think about it at all when Brandon Phillips led off the game with a double into the gap in left-center. After Cabrera bunted him over, you almost took for granted that Votto was going to get his bat on something and get that run home. But he didn't. Santana got him on an ugly, excuse-me swing, and Rolen followed by flying out to end the inning.
Quiet through the first few innings, as Reds starter Matt Maloney (whoever he is) was matching Santana. He wasn't getting the first or second pitch flyouts that Santana was, the Mets were working him intensely, but he wasn't getting in jams and certainly wasn't giving up runs. In fact, until Ruben Tejada singled in the 3rd, the Mets hadn't had a hit. So, of course, with Santana up to bunt, Tejada promptly got thrown out trying to steal (My friend contended bunt and run, but I think Tejada screwed up). Well, fine. There goes that. But there was Santana, fouling off pitch after pitch from Maloney. After about 6 or so, I'd lost count, he'd started to get the timing down. After a few more, my friend conjectured that Santana was going to put one in the Pepsi Porch. I didn't think that possible, but on the next pitch, Santana cracked a good shot down the right field line that hooked foul. All right, close. Nonetheless, that didn't make the next pitch any less of a shock.
This pitch was hit similar to the last one, but it was a little higher, and a little farther, and a little straighter, and it was hooking...CLANG! Right into the foul pole for a Home Run! Holy Crap! Well, if nobody else will score for him, why not do it himself!? Santana appeared ready to faint when he came around the bases, probably not from rounding them, but because I don't think he expected to do that either. I don't think anyone had any problems with it, though.
But with that lead, albeit slim, Santana went back to work. And by back to work, I mean he didn't give the Reds much of anything the rest of the night. I know he'd made some adjustments to his windup or whatever, but I think the talk of his demise and how he's no longer an ace may have just gotten to him. He was out there with a bit of a chip on his shoulder these last couple of starts. I think what all the talking has done has made him mad and mean, and he's reflecting that on the mound. He wasn't blowing the ball by people, he was just making everyone make paltry contact and hit lazy fly ball after lazy fly ball, which in this ballpark is going to be an out every time (except when Jason Bay whiffs in the 9th inning). After Phillips' double, Santana allowed a walk to Votto in the 4th, a 2-out single to Cabrera in the 6th, followed by another walk to Votto, and a walk to Miguel Cairo in the 8th, and a single to Rolen in the 9th, and that was pretty much it. Phillips was the only guy who got as far as 3rd base. More impressive was the fact that just about every out came on the 1st or 2nd pitch. By comparison, Maloney had thrown about 60 pitches after 3 innings, and was well over 100 by time he came out in the 6th. Santana didn't crack 100 pitches until the 9th inning.
And there was that 9th inning. Santana had, what was for him, a jam in the 8th when he walked Cairo and fell behind Phillips, but he rebounded to get the next two batters with two guys warming up in the bullpen. The conjecture was that Santana was finished after the 8th and Rodriguez would unfortunately come in for the 9th, unless the Mets could score a couple more runs. But the inning came and nobody was in the bullpen. The inning past and nobody even stood up out there. So, Santana would get the 9th. The crowd was already chanting "JO-HAN! JO-HAN!" in the 8th inning, so you can imagine how loud everyone got when he came out for the 9th. He got Votto very quickly (another 1st pitch out), but then came the Rolen single and the almost unconscionable Jason Bay error, and there was Rodriguez in the pen, and there was everyone screaming for Jerry to stay in the dugout. Nonetheless, Santana was up to 111 pitches and things appeared to be slipping away. Here came Manuel. Here came the boos. No signal went up. Jerry walked away with Santana still on the mound. I was pretty sure that if he tried to pull Santana there, fans would have stormed the field and torn him apart. 2 pitches later, the game was over. True to form, Santana got both Gomes and Stubbs out on the first pitch, Gomes on a screamer that was headed for disasterville if not for a fine play by Ike Davis (otherwise we were looking at 3-1 and Rodriguez surely in the game), and Stubbs on a harmless grounder to Wright. And that put away what was easily the best game I've been to so far this season.
This, hopefully, was a statement from Santana, that the old guy we're used to seeing isn't gone. He was injured last season, but you can expect something special out of him in the 2nd half. We'll see if this is true, but if his start last night was any indication, he's going to be fun to watch the rest of the way this year.