Given his choice between believing his heart, his instincts or his pitcher, it was no contest for Terry Collins. The pitcher won big, and it turned out great.
Collins just hopes it was the right call.
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"During the game itself, I was pretty much wrestling with what's in the best interest of our team," the Mets' manager said Saturday, having had about 14 hours to reflect on having left Johan Santana and his surgically repaired shoulder in to finish a no-hitter. "After the game, when I was sitting in my office, I just said that might have been one of the most exciting evenings I've ever spent in baseball, and I've had a lot of good ones.
"In my heart, I was very, very excited for Johan, very excited for everybody. But I kind of felt I had made the wrong move."
The late innings Friday were filled with suspense for everyone watching, and the next few days will be just as tense for Collins. He can only hope that Santana's 134 pitches -- 19 more than the strict limit Collins had cited before the game -- will not cause some as-yet- unseen problems.
"I went against about everything I stand for. That's taking the chance of hurting your whole ballclub throughout the next four months for an instant decision of glory. Is it worth it? I believe in the organization and I believe in the team and I'm not here to destroy any of that," the manager said, admitting that part of him was wishing the Cardinals would get a hit so he could easily avoid risking Santana's health.
"When I went down to him on the bench, just to check and see how he was doing, he said, 'Look, I'm going to finish this.' I told him, 'Well, you're my hero.' What I meant by that was he is really basically taking the decision away from me."
Santana insisted Saturday that he is fine, and shrugged off the torment he caused Collins by insisting on staying in. "It's just part of the game, you know?" the pitcher said.
Collins' bosses and peers basically said the same thing. If your ace is going for a no-hitter in the 50th anniversary season of a franchise that never had a no-hitter, you leave him in the game.
"Sandy supported it, Jeff supported it," Collins said, referring to general manager Sandy Alderson and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. "I got a tremendous call from Tony La Russa today, which I was very appreciative of. He said, look, you did the right thing. When it comes from those people, I feel a lot better about it."
La Russa, the retired world champion manager, knows you just have to believe in your players. Terry Francona, the former Red Sox champion manager, was at Citi Field Saturday, preparing to work Sunday night's game for ESPN. He recalled that when Jon Lester was going for a no-hitter after his comeback from cancer, he told pitching coach John Farrell, "They're going to boo you when you go take him out, because it's not going to be me."
No way it was going to be Collins on Friday. As he said Saturday, "The fight that would have taken place on the mound had I taken him out would have been a bigger story than the no-hitter."