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This Date In Mets History: March 13 – Happy Birthday To Johan Santana

We wish that everything goes right for the lefty this season and puts a smile back on his face.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

We wish the presently unhappy Johan Santana a happy and, we hope, healthy 34th birthday. In case you missed it, Johan broke the Mets’ 50-year-plus no-hitter drought on June 1, 2012, against the Cardinals. In true Mets fashion, of course, he waited until after one of the pitchers for whom he was traded, Philip Humber, hurled a perfect game. Johan’s no-no was not without controversy, and if he had ended up settling for a one-hitter, the Twitterverse would have been justified for once in tweeting #blamebeltran.

Perhaps more impressive was how Santana finished out the 2008 season, his first as a Met. After beating the Cubs with an eight-inning, 10-strikeout performance in which he threw a then career-high 125 pitches, he staved off the Mets’ eventual elimination from the pennant race with a complete game three-hit shutout, on only three days rest, against the Florida Marlins. The kicker: Santana pitched that day, and possibly in other September starts, with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

He then underwent the first of three surgeries he would have as a Met, including a shoulder operation that kept him off the mound for the entire 2011 season. He also suffered a season-ending ankle injury last July, which appears to be slowing his progress this spring. As great as Santana has been when healthy, his situation shows why GMs are often and understandably reluctant to hand out long-term contracts to pitchers. The Mets experienced similar woes with Pedro Martinez and Bret Saberhagen, but luckily avoided it with Mike Hampton.

Other Birthdays
In July 1998, the Mets picked up lefty swinging (notice we didn’t say “hitting”) catcher Jorge Fabregas, 43 today, as insurance amid concerns that they wouldn’t be able to sign Mike Piazza and that Todd Hundley might not be able to catch again. Piazza signed, Hundley was traded, and the insurance policy was mercifully canceled (read “sent to the Marlins”).

Happy 59th birthday to Terry Leach. The sidearming right-hander achieved folk hero status in 1987 when he came out of the bullpen to rescue an injury-plagued rotation, going 7–1 as a starter (including a two-hit shutout) to complement his 4–0 work in relief that year. It wasn’t a fluke, either. He came into the season with a career ERA of 3.21 and threw a 10-inning one-hitter against the Phillies in 1982 — after which he was traded away and, happily, reacquired three years later. His seven-year/176-game totals as a Met: 24–9, 3.11 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 1.87 K/BB, and 4.9 WAR, with the Mets going 15–3 in his starts.

Gary Kolb is 73 today. During a 12-game stretch in 1965, the infielder-outfielder hit an even .300 with two doubles, a home run, six RBI, and six runs scored. He did virtually nothing, however, in his other 28 games as a Met, but he impressed the Pirates enough to take him, along with pitcher Dennis Ribant, in the deal that netted the Mets super-bust Don Bosch and solid veteran right-hander Don Cardwell.

In his season and a half with the Mets, Al Luplow, who celebrates his 74th birthday today, hit only 10 home runs, but three of those were against Juan Marichal, two were off Bob Gibson, and one off all-time nemesis Larry Jackson (21–2 lifetime vs. Mets).

Luis Aguayo, who got the only hit in Leach’s 10-inning one-hitter, is 54 today. He was the Mets’ third base coach in 2008.

Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1968, The Byrds’ Greatest Hits album was certified gold. Forty-five years later it looks as if Sandy Alderson may have struck gold, (well, a nugget at least), by signing Marlon Byrd as a free agent last month. Ever since his boot heels wandered into camp this spring, Byrd has looked younger than yesterday. He can still turn, turn, turn on a fastball and I’ll feel a whole lot better if there’s an experienced pro like him patrolling right field at Citi Field. Here’s hoping some of this Byrd’s greatest hits will come as a member of the 2013 Mets.