Along with a half-century's worth of drama and celebration, Johan Santana's no-hitter came with an umpire's error and an angst-ridden manager, the kind of night that doesn't go away in a week.
There would be consequences, because of Santana's arduous recovery from shoulder surgery and because of Terry Collins' difficult but proper decision to usher him through 134 pitches. Then, because of the $45 million the team still owes Santana, and because the New York Mets tend to do things the hard way. Always have.
The Mets showed up at Yankee Stadium for an interleague ballgame Friday night, the manager with all due patience said yes he would stay out of the way of another no-hit scenario, and Santana returned to the mound after a rest of six days and not the typical four.
Then, in the sort of compelling paradox that seems to feed on New York baseball (or vice versa), where 10 miles (and, oh, 25 World Series championships) separate the franchises, the newly iconic Mets pitcher gave up four home runs almost before the pre-game buzz died. Conversely, a middling Yankees pitcher may have come a double – Omar Quintanilla's in the sixth inning – from a no-hitter, which saved Yankees manager Joe Girardi from a replay of Collins' torment.
Santana did not allow a double in his no-hitter because a ball that hit the foul line was seen otherwise by the third-base umpire. The lapse circuitously led to the most pitches Santana had thrown – by 26 – since his career-threatening surgery, and also the most wonderful individual moment of his professional life, a fair trade in the eyes of Santana and Mets fans.
While Hiroki Kuroda took his no-hitter near the point where it began to seem real, Santana looked nothing little like the pitcher who'd so befuddled the St. Louis Cardinals the previous Friday. After a perfect first inning in which he struck out Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, Santana walked Alex Rodriguez to start the second and then allowed a home run to Robinson Cano. There were two more hits in the second, then, in the third inning, the Yankees laid four hits end-to-end, including consecutive home runs over 11 pitches by Cano (again), Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones.
At the conclusion of the inning, Collins met Santana at the bottom of the dugout steps. The two conversed for a minute or two near the bat rack. Santana had allowed six runs on seven hits and a walk. He'd thrown 69 pitches. They decided Santana would keep pitching. Santana was clean in the fourth and fifth innings, and concluded with 86 pitches. The Yankees won 9-1. Kuroda allowed the one hit in seven innings.
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Afterward, Collins said Santana's lack of command was due not to his arduous no-hitter, but to the additional rest.
"Absolutely," he said. "For all the people who thought I didn't make the right decision a week ago, because of that decision I felt he needed some extra rest and I'm also responsible for the way he pitched tonight. … So, it's my doing, not his.
"Every mistake he made he got hammered. He doesn't make that many mistakes in any game he pitches. … We erred on the side of caution and it cost us the game tonight."
Indeed, Santana's command was suspect. His fastball, which has lost velocity since the surgery and recovery, was up in the strike zone and hittable. His slider was sloppy. His changeup lacked its usual tug.
"His shoulder is fine," Collins said. "His health is fine."
Santana called the start, "Just one of those days."
"The rest was good," he said. "I'm fine. I did everything as planned. Couple extra days, I felt fine. I just didn't have the feeling for a couple pitches. The good thing is, I felt good."
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A week before, Collins had juggled the best courses for Santana, the organization and the season, all from the dugout over a couple innings. The Mets, in one of 2012's many surprises, began Friday night 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East. And Santana is 3-3 with an ERA under 3.
"I know there were a lot of expectations, people waiting for tonight," Santana said. "It just happens."
In New York, it usually does.
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