SARASOTA, Fla. - The irony is not lost on Johan Santana. Or the cruelty. How could the best night of his career also be the one that possibly destroyed it? Two years later, and trying another comeback in a different uniform, Santana still has no regrets about the no-hitter that changed everything.
Standing at his locker, wearing the Orioles' black and orange workout gear, he explained Wednesday why it's just the opposite. By making history for the Mets, with a surgically repaired shoulder, he is convinced he can beat the odds again -- coming off a second capsule reconstruction.
"Definitely,'' Santana told Newsday. "I know what it takes and it's not easy. But I'm not going out of the game like that. Whenever I leave this game, I want to do it on my own terms. Honestly, I don't remember who the last hitter was that I faced. I don't remember anything about my last game and I don't want to.
"I'm excited to know when my next one is going to be, so that's the way I'm looking at it -- nothing to lose, a lot to gain. That's the reason I'm here. Because I feel like I can still do it.''
Santana's last time on a major-league mound was Aug. 17, 2012, at Nationals Park. He retired Mike Morse on a deep fly to center to end the fifth inning and did not return -- that season or the next. When Santana arrived for spring training in 2013, his arm was lifeless. Two months later, his left shoulder was cut open again, only this time the Mets' surgeon, David Altchek, "anchored'' the torn tissue to his bone after it had ripped away.
Santana said that is the critical difference between the two surgeries -- done 31 months apart -- and it gives him optimism for this second go-round. His first workout Wednesday at the Orioles' complex was limited to long toss at about 120 feet and some conditioning runs, but he said it's very early in the process.
As for the scouting reports that had him barely breaking 80 mph at an audition this month, Santana said it was nothing more than getting used to a mound again. He has not thrown with any "intensity'' to this point, and with Orioles GM Dan Duquette setting June 1 as a target date, Santana believes he has the time to get ready.
"We have to make sure my shoulder feels good,'' he said. "Once we get everything back together -- my legs, my whole body -- then we'll get more intensity. After that, it's pitching. And I know how to pitch.''
The two-time Cy Young winner figures to be a low-risk gamble for the Orioles, who signed him to a minor-league contract that will be worth $3 million if he cracks the 40-man roster.
But wherever Santana goes from here, he'll always be reminded of the immortality he achieved in Flushing -- and how one night may have scuttled his future. He insists there is no medical proof those 134 pitches -- against the Cardinals during his 8-0 no-no on June 1, 2012 -- ultimately led to his second surgery, but the numbers show he was never the same afterward. Santana knows that much, and in the midst of this exhausting climb, refuses to second-guess himself.
"How many times do you have an opportunity to be in that situation?'' he said. "Maybe never. To me, it was like the greatest thing ever.''
All Santana has now is tomorrow, and it's been an excruciatingly long wait. If he does eventually join the Orioles, maybe he'll be in a playoff race for the first time since 2008, when his brilliant September (4-0, 1.83 ERA) couldn't prevent another Mets collapse. For Santana, who turns 35 next week, his turbulent stay in Flushing taught him a lot.
"One game makes a difference, and you always have to go for it,'' Santana said. "Because you never know. And then -- just like that -- it's gone.''