The fanfare attending the return of former Mets star Jose Reyes paled in importance to the return to form of Mets ace Johan Santana Tuesday night at Citi Field. Santana came away with a no-decision in the Mets' 2-1 victory over Miami, but his 11-strikeout performance provided a much-needed boost on a day that began with pitcher Mike Pelfrey (swollen elbow) and leftfielder Jason Bay (fractured rib) going on the 15-day disabled list.
Coming off the shortest start of his career a week earlier in Atlanta, when he gave up six runs in 11/3 innings and failed to record a strikeout for the first time. Santana retired 20 of the first 23 batters he faced. He allowed only one single and two walks in that span. In his fourth start since recovering from shoulder surgery, he lasted 62/3 innings and threw a season-high 105 pitches.
"I felt bad for him,'' manager Terry Collins said. "Once in a while, you have to give guys a chance. I said, 'He deserves a chance to get out of this, so I'll let him face Gaby.' ''
Santana got off the hook in the bottom of the seventh when, with two outs, the Mets drew four straight walks from four pitchers to tie the score at 1. Lucas Duda earned the first of those walks off Josh Johnson, who also went 62/3 innings and had nine strikeouts. In the eighth, Duda drove in the winning run with a line shot off the hand of reliever Edward Mujica for an infield single that scored Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
But the fact the Mets still were in the game was a tribute to Santana. "That's what your big pitchers do -- stop losing streaks,'' Collins said. "That's what he did tonight. This guy's got something that makes him special.''
Before the game, the focus was on the return of Reyes. Given the outcry when he left to take the Marlins' six-year contract worth $106 million, the crowd of 20,192 was disappointing. The Mets' video tribute to Reyes before the game drew cheers from the majority of fans but plenty of boos, too.
"It didn't surprise me because I play for the other team now, so it's no hard feelings to no one,'' Reyes said.
Facing Reyes to start the game was a strange sensation for Santana. "When he stepped to the plate, I was trying not to look at him,'' Santana said. "He might make me laugh or something.''
Never known for his patience at the plate, Reyes jumped all over Santana's second pitch, hammering it to the wall in left-center, where Nieuwenhuis made a leaping catch. "I was surprised it carried that far,'' Santana said. "But Kirk made a great play, and after that I settled down. I was able to go deep and command all my pitches.''
Asked if he thought he had a homer, Reyes said, "I think I had it, but Johan is always tough. It was good to see him perform the way he did tonight because he's a good friend of mine.''
While Santana regained his command, his bad luck with run support continued. Through his first four starts totaling 18 innings, he is one of only two pitchers in the majors not to receive a single run.
"There's not much I can do,'' Santana said. "I have to focus on keeping the score right there. Hopefully, at some point, we'll start scoring runs.''