He’ll get to start September against a team he may be facing again in October.
Locked in a tight NL East race, New York sends Santana to the mound Monday as it visits the Milwaukee Brewers for the first of three games in a potential division series preview.
The Mets (76-61) lead Philadelphia by one game in the East, and they’ll begin the final month of the regular season with one of baseball’s best pitchers on the mound. New York acquired Santana from Minnesota in February, expecting the two-time AL Cy Young award winner would prevent a repeat of last season, when it blew a seven-game lead over the Phillies with 17 games to go.
“It has been a motivating factor the entire year,” manager Jerry Manuel said.
Santana (12-7, 2.70 ERA) was solid through the first three months of his first season in New York, going 7-7 with a 3.01 ERA, but he’s been especially good since July began.
Despite being been the victim of three blown leads by the Mets’ bullpen over the past two months, the left-hander is 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA in that span.
He had won three straight starts before Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia, when he gave up three runs in six innings before New York rallied late for a 6-3 win. It was the 11th time Santana had given up three runs or fewer without earning a victory, but he was satisfied.
“It’s not about one guy or one pitcher,” Santana said. “We did a great job. The way you win doesn’t really matter.”
While the Mets are in a close division race, the Brewers (80-56) have put some distance between themselves and St. Louis for the wild card. They now lead the Cardinals by 6 1/2 games in the race for the NL’s final playoff spot, and are just 4 1/2 behind the Chicago Cubs for the top spot in the NL Central.
The Brewers continued their dominance of Pittsburgh over the weekend, climbing to 11-1 against the Pirates with a three-game sweep while outscoring them 21-4. CC Sabathia improved to 9-0 in a Milwaukee uniform on Sunday, pitching a one-hitter in the 7-0 win.
“He’s been dominant since he came over and, hopefully, he and rest of the team will take us to the promised land,” third baseman Bill Hall said.
There’s no question Sabathia has become the Brewers’ ace, a title once held by Ben Sheets (12-7, 3.05), who will oppose Santana. Sheets was 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA in early July, but is 2-5 with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts since Sabathia joined the team.
Sheets, however, gave Milwaukee an excellent start in a big situation on Tuesday. The right-hander allowed five hits in six innings at St. Louis as the Brewers won 12-0.
Sheets got the better of Santana when the two squared off at Shea Stadium on April 12, allowing three runs over 7 2-3 innings of a 5-3 win. Santana gave up five runs - four earned - in 6 2-3 frames.
The Mets have won 12 of their last 18 games at Miller Park.