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Santana gets his first shot at facing Twins

New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana throws

New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana throws in a bullpen during spring training. (February 25, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

JUPITER, Fla. - By his own admission, Grapefruit League games don't mean much to Johan Santana. Probably less to him than most pitchers, including those who have won a Cy Young or two.

But when Santana takes the mound Friday for another tuneup at Tradition Field, it's going to be difficult for him to suppress a smile. That's because it will be the first time he's faced the Twins since they traded him to the Mets before the 2008 season.

Santana had to OK the five-player deal, which he then flipped into a six-year, $137.5-million contract extension. But in talking about his start against the Twins, he did sound nostalgic.

"You know what?" he said. "I tell you one thing - I had the best memories of my career over there, wearing that uniform. But you only think about those when they are brought up. That's the past now. I have to live in my reality. I'm here in New York and working, trying to get memorable moments here. I have a couple of them already as a Met, but I'm looking for more to come.

"It's easy to talk about the past because it's already happened. It's tough to talk about the future because it hasn't happened yet. We're working on it. I want it to be very special."

Looking back, there's really no comparison between his eight years with the Twins and his first two seasons in New York.

Santana won a pair of Cy Young Awards in Minnesota - in 2004 and 2006 - and the Twins were a perennial contender. Santana made four trips to the playoffs there, even if he survived the first round only once and never advanced to the World Series.

To Santana, however, the Twins' lack of October success meant less to him than the winning culture that he was part of. It was a subject that he kept going back to while discussing the upcoming visit by the Twins. Despite shedding the uniform, Santana's time with the Twins left a more permanent impression on him - in a good way.

"They do the little things right," Santana said, "and when I was there, that's when nobody gave them credit for it, those little things. It didn't matter who you were over there. Torii [Hunter], Joe Mauer, me. That was the focus.

"That's something they have in the minor leagues. So when you're a minor-leaguer with that team, and you learn that, it doesn't surprise you when you get to the big leagues. It becomes who you are. I spent eight years there, and that's where I learned how to focus on the little things."

Santana will recognize the uniforms but otherwise won't notice much else familiar. Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jim Thome won't be making the three-hour trip from Fort Myers. Denard Span, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel are likely to be the highest-profile Twins subjected to the bus ride for the 1:10 p.m. start.

Santana also won't have to worry about any revenge-minded former Mets on the traveling roster. The Mets shipped four players to Minnesota in the Santana deal - outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra - but only Guerra still is in the Twins' organization.

But this particular group of Twins won't matter as much to Santana as seeing former manager Ron Gardenhire, the man he credits for making the Twins what they are. And he won't let sentimentality get in the way - even for an exhibition game.

"I'm pretty sure I'll laugh when I see Gardy out there," Santana said. "But when it's time to work, it doesn't matter who's out there. I told my dad one time, 'You better not get in my way when I'm pitching, because I'm going to get you.' And that's my dad."


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