Santana sparked the Mets' offense with an unusual broken-bat infield single and struck out 10 in eight innings, leading New York to a much-needed 6-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.
"It should count for two hits," said Santana, whose fifth-inning bouncer hit a piece of his cracked maple bat twice and set up New York's rally. "I was just lucky."
Jose Reyes had a three-run triple for his 200th hit of the season and David Wright drove in two runs with a clutch single for the Mets, who ended a three-game skid reminiscent of last season's epic collapse.
"That's one of the biggest wins of the season for us," Reyes said.
New York remained one game in front of Milwaukee, which beat Pittsburgh 7-5, in the wild-card race and moved within 1½ games of NL East-leading Philadelphia, which lost 3-2 to Atlanta. The Phillies won the division title last year after the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play.
New York acquired Santana (15-7) in the offseason for situations like Tuesday night, and the left-hander delivered a sharp performance. He allowed two runs and seven hits to improve to 8-0 with a 2.26 ERA in his last 16 starts.
"Every big game that we needed in Johan's turn [he] was filthy," manager Jerry Manuel said. "He stepped up. He stepped up big tonight."
Santana, glowering at plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after some close throws, tossed a career-high 125 pitches. It was the highest total for a Mets pitcher since Orlando Hernandez threw 130 on Aug. 14, 2007, at Pittsburgh.
"I didn't even know I had that many pitches, to be honest to you," Santana said. "All the intensity in the game and everything that we went through, I was just out there trying to help."
Santana's wacky hit got the Mets back on track after they struggled for much of the game against Sean Marshall, who worked out of a jam in the first and retired 12 of 13 before running into trouble in the fifth.
With one out, Marshall plunked Nick Evans and Santana followed with a grounder up the middle. Marshall eluded a piece of Santana's bat but the ball got past him and kicked off the broken wood, bouncing off the glove of shortstop Ronny Cedeno.
"I was trying to track the ball but the bat kind of caught my attention and I don't know if the ball hit the bat twice -- it hit it in front of me and then hit it back there with Ronny," Marshall said. "But it definitely was a tough play to make for both of us."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella couldn't believe it.
"Marshall did fine," he said. "The only problem is he hits the eighth hitter. Then Santana pulls a magic bat trick. I've never seen that before."
The unlikely hit put runners on first and second and sent a charge through the Shea Stadium crowd, increasingly uneasy as the Mets struggled to score against Marshall.
Reyes struck out, but Luis Castillo walked and Wright lined a tying two-run single into left. Wright clapped his hands repeatedly after ending an 0-for-11 skid with the bases loaded.
"I've had my problems with runners in scoring position but I'm glad I could come through," he said. "It's a big at-bat for my confidence and the team."
New York added four runs in the sixth, helped by reliever Chad Gaudin's throwing error. After Carlos Delgado led off with a double, Ramon Castro hit a slow roller to the right of the mound. Gaudin (4-2) and first baseman Derrek Lee hesitated before the pitcher picked it up and threw it past Lee.
Delgado scored to give New York the lead, and Reyes' triple later in the inning made it 6-2.
Piniella rested three regulars after Monday night's big win, and two of his subs came up big.
Casey McGehee, filling in for third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and Fukudome hit consecutive doubles off Santana in the second to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Cedeno, who started at shortstop in place of Ryan Theriot, doubled and scored on Johnson's single in the third.
Mets RHP John Maine, on the DL since Aug. 24 with a bone spur in his right shoulder, tossed lightly before the game and hopes to be activated Wednesday. "I want to pitch," said Maine, who could be used as a reliever if he comes back this season. "It's not my call." ... Cubs C Geovany Soto also rested, with Henry Blanco getting the start. ... A fan ran on the field in the sixth inning and was tackled by security near third base. ... Manuel said before the game he hasn't finalized who will start Saturday against Florida.