NEW YORK (AP)—Johan Santana(notes) wandered over behind the batting cage, hugged Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire and chatted with old buddy Francisco Liriano(notes). A couple of Twins coaches stopped by, and Joe Mauer(notes) patted the pitcher on his back as he ran past.
Santana and his ex-teammates were all smiles Friday evening during a mini-reunion at Citi Field. They’ll be much more serious Saturday, though, when the left-hander starts for the New York Mets in the middle game of their interleague series against the Twins.
“It was good to see some friends out there. But I’m just going to do my job,” Santana said. “I think it’s going to be very intense. It’s going to be fun at the same time. I’m going to be ready for it.”
It will be Santana’s first regular-season matchup with Minnesota, the team he pitched for during his first eight major league seasons. That’s where he blossomed into an ace and won two AL Cy Young Awards while helping the Twins capture four division titles.
“We always had fun,” Santana said. “Great memories. The best ones that I have in my career have been there.”
Minnesota’s dangerous lineup features several of Santana’s former teammates, including Mauer and fellow slugger Justin Morneau(notes). The pitcher said he still follows what’s going on with the Twins and he knows what’s ahead of him.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Santana said. “The only time I faced them was in spring training when we have those, like, bullpen sessions. But other than that, I have to go through the scouting report and see what they’re trying to do. But I cannot show you my secrets. I have to make my adjustments as the game goes and try to hit my spots and try to win. That’s the way it is. I’m pretty sure they feel the same way. They want to go out there and try to beat me. So I think it’s going to be very interesting.”
Mets manager Jerry Manuel thinks it will be an emotional experience for Santana, too.
“Sure, sure. This is the team that developed him, grew him up. Made him pretty much the pitcher that he is. And leaving there was probably tough for him,” Manuel said. “He’s got a great history there. And I’m sure a lot of the guys that are playing on the team have heard about him and heard about the history, all the things he did. So I think it creates a good kind of rivalry.”
The matchup comes at the end of a tumultuous week for Santana.
Reports surfaced recently that a woman accused him of raping her in Florida last year. The pitcher told Florida police he had consensual sex with the woman, and a case report from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office dated Jan. 12 said Santana told investigators that the woman “never told me to stop or ‘No’ during our sexual encounter.”
Santana, who is married with three children, was with the woman on a golf course in a gated Lee County community on the night of Oct. 27. The woman told detectives Santana forced himself sexually on her, though she repeatedly told him she didn’t want to have sex. Afterward, she said she watched him play tennis.
The state attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case, citing lack of evidence and inconsistent statements.
Santana said Wednesday that “the case is closed” and said he would not comment any further. The Mets said the situation is a personal matter.
Santana pitched for Minnesota from 2000-07. As he neared his chance to become a free agent, the cost-conscious Twins traded him to the Mets in February 2008. He signed a $137.5 million, six-year contract with New York.
“We saw him in spring training,” Gardenhire said, “but it’s always strange to see him on the other team.”
Santana said he’s a little surprised that the Twins, playing in a new outdoor ballpark this season, have increased their payroll substantially since he left. But he said he’s happy for them and their success.
“I don’t think he really wanted to leave, but it worked out better for him to come here for his long-term status and goals and all that kind of thing,” Morneau said. “Anytime you have a guy that had the success that he had, obviously you miss him when he’s gone, but it’s been a long time and it’s given an opportunity to other guys and they’ve taken advantage of it.”
Coming off arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow last September, Santana is 5-4 with a 3.31 ERA. He said he’s still recovering and making adjustments, but he feels better now.
“It’s kind of like anybody else you’ve never faced,” Morneau said. “I guess it’d be fun if we beat him. Other than that, try not to put too much more into it.”
Still, the moment isn’t lost on Gardenhire.
“It’s exciting. Always excited to see him. And you always wish him the best except when he pitches against us,” the Twins’ manager said. “I love the kid. You know what? He’s done an awful lot of good for the Minnesota Twins organization. Very proud of him and happy for him.”