Later this season, when Pedro Martinez inevitably tries another comeback attempt, he should show his potential suitors the video of yesterday's Game 1 performance by Johan Santana. It was straight out of Martinez's personal DVD collection.
Santana barely touched 90 mph on the radar gun with a fastball that hovered more in the 87-88 range. He threw 49 pitches in the first two innings and needed 84 to get through four, staggering totals that made John Maine look efficient by comparison.
With the Mets bracing for a long, cold night against the Dodgers, the thought of Santana taking an early seat in the first game of a doubleheader - and Oliver Perez to follow - had to send a chill through Jerry Manuel. But Santana showed that those numbers mattered less to him than the zero on the scoreboard.
The Dodgers entered with a .293 batting average, tied with the Royals for tops in the majors, and six of their Game 1 starters were over .300. Yet Santana allowed only four singles in six innings and gutted his way through a 115-pitch outing to lead the Mets to a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers.
In 2008, Santana plowed through September with a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery to fix. Last year, his season was cut short by bone chips in his left elbow. With those medical issues behind him, Santana was considered among the favorites for a third Cy Young as soon he showed up healthy for spring training.
But with a puzzling lack of velocity, and occasionally appearing to be mortal - see his April 11 start against the Nationals - Santana has been difficult to read. The Mets prefer to look at his 3-1 record and 2.08 ERA in five starts. Not to mention Santana extended his streak of scoreless innings to 15 dating to that misstep against Washington.
"I think effective is a good word," Jerry Manuel said. "I think he's been very effective. When you shut out the Cardinals, and then you shut out the Dodgers, I don't know how much better he can be."
Point well taken. Santana has a head full of Cy Young experience, and arguably the game's best changeup.
In his previous start, during the 20-inning marathon against the Cardinals, Santana actually reached 92 mph and appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. Maybe the breezy, 53-degree conditions at Citi Field last night cooled Santana off a bit, but he believes those extra miles per hour will return soon.
"I don't really know," Santana said of the diminished velocity. "There's no excuses for that. I think I just focus on command. I focus on throwing the ball on the right spot and mixing the pitches. Velocity is something that you build up and then at some point, it's going to come back.
"When you have these kind of days, it's just about commanding your pitches and finding ways to get guys out. It's just part of the building process."
Aside from the Dodgers, it was not the easiest of assignments. Citi Field was nearly empty when Santana threw his first pitch at 4:10 p.m. and he said the atmosphere felt more like spring training. He also struggled to get a feel for his fastball, trying to get by with his changeup and slider as the pitch count threatened to ruin his night.
"I don't let what's going on in the game take over," Santana said. "I battle through it and then I go inning after inning, out after out. I don't think about what just happened. I'm just trying to stay with it and be aggressive."
Santana survived by winning that mental game. It's one that he's comfortable playing these days. "He just knows how to pitch," Manuel said. "Whatever he has, he knows how to compete with it. We get caught up in the speeds and so forth, but he's a tremendous pitcher."