Santana gives Mets a real 'dominating' effort in opener
Originally Published: March 31, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
MIAMI -- He's the perfect cure for the 6-month-old nightmare that won't go away.He's a dose of amnesia for a team that's trying to perfect the art of forgetfulness. He's the great Johan Santana. And when he walked to the mound Monday for the first Opening Day start of his life as a New York Met, he made the events of September 2007 feel about as irrelevant as the Peloponnesian War. After all, who can think about a topic as ancient as the Greatest September Collapse of Modern Times when you have Cy Young doing his thing, huh?
"Yeah, instead of having to answer 10 million questions about last year," laughed David Wright after Santana's Mets debut, "we've only had to answer 5 million. But with every astonishing pitch that came out of Santana's hand Monday, those messy September headlines seemed to gravitate a little closer to the nearest recycling bin -- because when Johan Santana is pitching, his new teammates dream only of what's possible, not of what's behind them. Santana whooshed through seven dazzling innings Monday in the Mets' 7-2 scrunching of the Marlins. If anyone else had been out there, you'd have called it dominating. But when it's Santana out there, this was just another day on the old Cy Young assembly line. Three hits. Eight punchouts. A no-hitter for the first 3 2/3 innings of his Mets career. And about 11 swings by assorted Marlins in which the bat went thisaway and the ball went thataway -- about two feet thataway. "If that's not dominating," said his new catcher, Brian Schneider, "it's going to be a great year." The list of men who have started on Opening Day for the Mets includes Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Mike Hampton and Al Leiter. We're guessing you've heard of them. Who'd have believed that none of them ever pitched seven innings or more in an opener and allowed that few hits? (Previous record: four hits, in a '93 complete-game shutout by Gooden.) "What's impressive to me," Wright said, "is just, with all the hype that surrounds him and being under the microscope, for him to go out there and be as calm as he was." Maybe if Santana had been making his first start for the Cardinals or the Reds or the Indians on Monday, his teammates might not have noticed that calmness quite as vividly. But this isn't St. Louis or Cincinnati or Cleveland. Is it? In New York, when a player like this arrives in a town like this, what's the first question we always ask? It's always the same: Can he handle it? Will he get swallowed up, like Randy Johnson, by the questions and the second-guesses and the demand for nothing short of nonstop greatness? Or will he be like Martinez and remember to inhale and exhale -- in that order? And will he not just do his thing but use the energy of a unique city as his own personal brand of premium unleaded? If Monday was any indication, we might already know how Santana will answer those questions. When he was asked whether he was nervous at all, even a little, Santana smiled, as if he couldn't tell the difference between Opening Day as a Met and Opening Day in the Metrodome. "Nervous? Butterflies? Whatever you want to call it? It's part of the game," he said. "It's just about you being able to control it. It's not about letting the emotions take hold. It's how you control your emotions and how you control the game, and not letting any situation control you. "That's just the way I am," he said. "I wasn't trying to do anything different, anything crazy. Just being myself." And being yourself, when you're Johan Santana, is better theater than "The Phantom of the Opera." He's 1-0 as a Met. But he's already 50 games over .500 (94-44) in his career -- giving him the No. 1 winning percentage (.681) of any active left-hander in the sport (among pitchers with that many decisions). And this might have been the first time he had spun one of those seven-inning three-hitters as a Met. But it's the 25th time he has done that in his career -- in not much more than 4½ full seasons as a starting pitcher. No pitcher alive has cranked out more games like that since the middle of 2003. So imagine what it's like when a pitcher like this heads for the mound on Opening Day -- and he's pitching for your team. You think maybe it's a slightly better feeling than being a Marlin, when your guy pitching Opening Day (Mark Hendrickson) got released in August? "I've been thinking about this all spring," Wright said. "I know today it finally happened. But all spring, I was sitting there saying, 'I can't believe we'll be running this guy out there every fifth day.' "
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesJohan Santana had eight strikeouts and pitched seven strong innings in the Mets' 7-2 win over the Marlins on Monday.
You know, I know it was just Game 1. But let me tell you. I'll be glad to take 35 more of
--Mets right fielder Ryan Church on Johan Santana