On Enjoying Johan Santana

Apr. 24, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) pitches during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field. Mets won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

When the Mets acquired Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season, I was thrilled. It didn’t take long for me to book a trip to Florida so I could be there on Opening Day to see him pitch his first game with the Mets. There was surely appeal in hanging out on the beach in Florida at the end of March, too, but my primary motivation was baseball.

Santana, for what it’s worth, did not disappoint. He threw seven innings, struck out eight, and walked two. The Mets’ hitters provided seven runs, and the Mets cruised to an easy 7-2 victory to begin the season.

Things haven’t gone very well for the Mets since that day, but as far as I was concerned, each of Santana’s starts was an event of its own. His presence didn’t prevent the Mets from missing the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion in 2008, and the team didn’t even come close in 2009 and 2010. Worst of all, Santana’s injury at the tail end of the 2010 season went from bad to really bad.

Before the 2011 season, my basic take on Santana was that I’d be happy just to see him return to the mound during the season. It came as no surprise that he missed the entire year as he recovered from the surgery that had been performed on his left shoulder, but it was still a big disappointment.

Last night at Citi Field, the buzz was all about Jose Reyes, who made his return to Queens to play his first ever game against the Mets. People made signs, some of which were very bizarre, and greeted Reyes with a smattering of boos and applause each time he stepped up to the plate or made a play in the field. I’m told there was a lot of buzz about the Mets’ decision to pay a quick tribute to Reyes with a pre-game video.

None of that really mattered to me. It was odd to see Reyes wearing an opposing uniform in person, but this was Johan Santana’s third start at Citi Field since his 2010 season came to an early end. As a Mets fan, a full season without Santana made me realize just how spoiled we were when he was pitching regularly.

Once again, Santana did not disappoint, striking out eleven and giving up just one run as he ran out of gas in the seventh inning. The Marlins’ lineup is one of the better ones in the National League these days, which makes his outing all the more impressive. He made an 89 mph fastball look much faster than it actually was, and his changeup had the Marlins guessing all night.

Plenty of words on this site and some others were spent talking about the under-appreciation of Carlos Beltran over the past few years, and as I sat in a less-than-half-full Citi Field last night, I couldn’t help but wonder if people are now overlooking Santana.

If he continues to pitch the way he did last night – and in two of his previous three starts – maybe a few more people will get excited about watching him pitch and show up to Citi Field to enjoy the show. I sure hope that’s the case because pitchers like Santana don’t come around all that often, and it would be a shame if Mets fans deprived themselves of such an enjoyable player.

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