One day before the New York spotlight will be on Queens for the first regular-season game at Citi Field, the Mets’ ace will try to shine against the Marlins on Sunday afternoon when his team looks for the series win.
Santana, though, will have to outpitch Florida right-hander Josh Johnson, who has never lost to the Mets.
Santana (1-0, 1.59 ERA) takes the mound for the second time this season following a 2-1 win over Cincinnati on Monday, when he allowed just one run and three hits over 5 2-3 innings. Unlike last season, when the Mets’ bullpen blew five of Santana’s nine leads in the ninth inning, first-year Mets relievers Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriquez threw 3 1-3 innings of scoreless relief.
“They deserve all the credit,” Santana said. “It’s great for us, and it was big for getting the comfort level up.”
Santana, though, deserves plenty of credit. The veteran lefty, who led the majors with a 2.53 ERA in 2008, is 10-0 with a 2.07 ERA in his last 18 starts and has not lost since June 28.
He is 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA in five career starts against the Marlins, including 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA in three starts in 2008, highlighted by a three-hitter on Sept. 27 in a 2-0 win pitching on three days’ rest.
“How many did he pitch? How many did he throw?” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Santana’s 117-pitch effort against the Marlins. “Wow, wow, wow, wow. I think if I had to describe that one, I would say that was gangsta. That was real gangsta.”
While Santana continues to put up gaudy numbers and even more gutsy efforts for the Mets (3-2), Johnson is quietly establishing himself as one of the game’s best young pitchers.
Since Tommy John surgery in Aug. 2007 sidelined him for a year, the Marlins’ 25-year-old is 8-1 with a 3.35 ERA.
In his first start of 2009, Johnson (1-0, 0.00 ERA) struck out eight in seven shutout innings in Florida’s 8-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday.
Johnson, who signed a one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Marlins in the offseason, is 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA lifetime against the Mets, whom he beat twice in 2008.
On Sunday, Johnson will face a Mets club that tagged Florida pitching for 15 hits in Saturday’s 8-4 win. The Marlins (4-1) were the major league’s last undefeated team.
“We had to come down to reality at one time or another,” second baseman Dan Uggla said.
Mets second baseman Luis Castillo broke out of his early season slump with a 4-for-4 effort versus his former team.
“I don’t want to think so much, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” said Castillo, batting .366 lifetime against the Marlins, whom he played for from 1996-2005. “I get frustrated sometimes, but I know what kind of player I am.”
Carlos Delgado went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs, moving within three RBIs of 1,500. Delgado, though, is 0-for-11 lifetime versus Johnson.
Emilio Bonifacio had his fifth straight multihit game Saturday with a 3-for-5 effort. He is batting .583.
Bonifacio is hitless in five career at-bats against Santana.