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Santana sharp against Red Sox

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Johan Santana, turns out, is a New York Met, which made Monday afternoon's Boston Red Sox lineup possible.

On a lukewarm spring day when Santana was dominant for four innings against Terry Francona's rather light lineup, the Red Sox pitched Jon Lester and had Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie at the top of the order, all of whom were – in one moment of hysteria or another – on their way to Minnesota in a trade for … Santana.

In a stirring coincidence, Hank Steinbrenner on Monday declared the Yankees back into the Santana negotiations, but with a deadline of the third inning.

None of which had any bearing on the Red Sox, who chose to pull back on Santana, and with 15 days before their season opener against the Oakland A's at the Tokyo Dome are running a little thin on starting pitchers. Josh Beckett is at home glaring at back spasms and the club could become reluctant to have him board a flight next week for the Far East. Curt Schilling (shoulder) won't be an option for a long while and Daisuke Matsuzaka (fatherhood) is hoping to time his departure around the birth of a child.

It is not unthinkable, therefore, the capable Lester would take the ball in consecutive starts for the American League-favorite Red Sox, on five months' rest.

Terry Francona, pretty lively for a guy whose commute for two days was a cross-state round trip, broke it down this way:

On Beckett: "Had a good day, a tough night. We gotta get that spasm out of there, let it calm down. … Truthfully, I think he's resigned himself to do the right thing, not do anything silly."

On intercontinental travel in general: "I can't imagine a 17-hour flight is good for anybody."

(Hint, hint)

On Matsuzaka's arrangement: "You gotta talk to the wife. I can't make her be so-many centimeters. There's no guarantee. I've been through it four times. It comes when it wants."

On, maybe, Lester starting Opening Day: "There's a lot of possibilities. I might be the Opening Day pitcher. There's a lot of things in flux."

On such vagaries accumulating – Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp, starting rotation, et al – so close to the regular season: "When those games come, we'll show up and play. I just don't know with who."

The news out of Florida isn't all disturbing in Boston, assuming there is anybody left in Boston. The big bats (including David Ortiz) are healthy and the Red Sox Nation appears to have overpowered the Sunshine State.

A day after they filled the outfield berms and set an attendance record at Holman Stadium up the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Vero Beach, the Red Sox drew a record crowd to Tradition Field, where the pregame ovations for Santana were inferior to those for Ellsbury, Boston's rookie leadoff hitter.

From their Fort Myers home, the Red Sox flew to Vero Beach and back Sunday, then to Port St. Lucie and back Monday, trading the three-hour bus rides for plane flights of the approximate duration of Matsuzaka pitching out of a first-and-third, one-out jam. In the second inning. In March.

The Mets, on Tuesday, will be bused to Fort Myers for the back end of the home-and-home. No jets for the weary.

"You win world championships, you can do that kind of stuff, man," Mets manager Willie Randolph said with a laugh. "Win two out of four years, you can do that kind of stuff. A lot of money in the kitty."

Ortiz, for one, appreciates the first-class treatment. Standing in the corner of the visitors' cement-block clubhouse Sunday morning in Vero Beach, he waffled his hand when asked about his offseason. He had knee surgery, which, he hopes, eliminated a recurrence of the pain he played through last season.

"It was like running with a flat tire," said Ortiz, who's not exactly at max PSIs to begin with.

But the Red Sox don't pay him to run, and despite the knee (and elbow), he batted a career-high .332 and drove in 117 runs. Then he hit .370 in October, when the weather went cold (and so did the Rockies).

"When it's all over, all you think about, it was worth it," Ortiz said. "That's something that you're proud of yourself. You get more respect from your teammates. But, you know, we were all on the same page. Everybody was sacrificing things."

Most of this – the injuries, the instabilities – seem temporary. There is still little to suggest the Red Sox aren't all that they are, the best team in the best league in baseball. It just might take them a little while to get there, or kind of the way the Mets, identified in many circles as the team to beat in the National League, are going about it in their camp.

So inspired were they by the addition of Santana, half the roster is staggering through spring. Carlos Beltran (knees) and Carlos Delgado (hip) were in a lineup for the first time together, Moises Alou (hernia) is out for another month at least, and then the Mets have players (Marlon Anderson, Ryan Church) crashing into each other in the outfield, twisting their ankles (Ruben Gotay) at the plate and adjusting to their bunions (Orlando Hernandez) on the mound. Luis Castillo (knee) hasn't played yet, and Pedro Martinez and Hernandez are still pitching in simulated games.

For a day, anyway, they ran Delgado out to first base and had Beltran DH, which counted as progress, even if neither looked particularly good at the plate.

"It was good," said Delgado, who struck out in both at-bats. "It was a pretty good day."

Asked if his sore hip might linger – he had issues with the same hip last season – Delgado, trying, at 35, to rebound from his worst offensive year, said, "I hope not. If I could predict the future, I wouldn't be playing baseball."

Presumably, he'd be getting five bucks a palm on the Asbury Park boardwalk instead.

So, the Mets and Red Sox find themselves in a similar place, with time to spare, but not that much, both running low on ice. This afternoon, it looked less like a preview for Game 1, and more like two teams straining to get to Day 1.

"We've got plenty of time to go," Randolph said after the Mets and Red Sox went 10 innings for a 1-1 tie. "But, health is a big key for us."

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