David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Collins didn't get it. What Santana delivered was more heartache for the manager after the Yankees pounded him for four home runs -- including three straight in a merciless third inning -- as the Mets crumbled, 9-1, in the Subway Series opener Friday night at the Stadium.
To make matters worse, Collins was reminded of Santana's historic feat, and perhaps the costly toll, by watching Hiroki Kuroda carry a no-hitter into the sixth inning. As if it wasn't already on his mind as he watched Santana hand out souvenirs to fans in leftfield and rightfield.
Afterward, Collins sat at the podium and basically drew a target on his forehead. As much as those 134 pitches tormented him, Collins felt awful for knocking Santana off schedule this week, a shoulder-saving strategy that he believed set his ace up for disaster. "We erred on the side of caution and it cost us a game tonight," Collins said. "For all the people that thought I made the right decision a week ago, it was because of that decision I thought he needed some extra rest -- and I'm also responsible for the way he pitched tonight. He was rusty . . . and it's my doing, not his."
This was ugly, and by the fourth inning, the only question left was how much longer Collins would subject Santana to such a brutal beating. That was a complete 180-degree turn from a week earlier -- from calculating the price of making history to measuring how much punishment Santana could absorb.
This time the answer was 86 pitches, or the number it took for Santana to finish five innings and shorten the bullpen's mop-up job. Standing at his locker, he offered no excuses. He made mistakes and the Yankees hit them -- hard. He understood Collins' reasons for giving him the two extra days, and based on the exceptional circumstances, this was a blameless crime.
"The good thing is that I'm fine," Santana said. "That's what I can say right now. I know there were a lot of expectations and a lot of people waiting for tonight, but it just happened. It's done. I've just got to get ready for my next one."
Collins said they considered bringing Santana back Thursday, but the pitcher didn't want to interfere with R.A. Dickey's scheduled start in Washington. To Collins, Wednesday wasn't an option. "I didn't feel comfortable with that, so I pushed him back," he said. "That's what caused him to be rusty."
The no-hitter made an already complicated situation even more complex. There was Collins, watching Santana on a collision course with history, knowing full well what a crash could mean for the future of both his No. 1 starter and the Mets.
A week later, there was no going back, and Santana appreciated that Collins stuck up for him. "We're in this together," Santana said. "It's not just me or him or just one guy. We win or lose together, and tonight was a tough one. But we're on the same page."
Yankee Stadium is a launching pad, but none of these homers was cheap. Robinson Cano pulled a slider into the second deck, Nick Swisher blasted an 89-mph fastball and Andruw Jones crushed a 77-mph change. It was the first time in Santana's career that he had allowed four homers in a game.
More troubling was the timing. This Friday didn't bother Collins as much as last Friday, but he still didn't feel great about it. He should listen to his pitcher.
"I'm happy for everything that happened, but I also knew that we still have a long way to go," Santana said. "This isn't the last outing and the no-hitter wasn't the last game of the season."
Collins should give himself a pat on the back for that.