Well, that turned out to be pretty disappointing, huh?
Actually, I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s hard to call Johan Santana’s time with the Mets disappointing because he did give Mets fans two indelible highlights. There was his season-saving, complete game shutout of the then-Florida Marlins 2-0 in Game 161 of 2008. Nine innings, nine strikeouts, only three hits and three walks allowed, and complete domination from start to finish, on three days’ rest with a knee that would require surgery. Sadly, as amazing as it sounds, that start will go down as the next to last September game Santana will pitch in his Mets career.
And of course, there was the no-hitter. Sadly, I wasn’t watching the game live. I was at an awful wrestling show in Rahway, New Jersey, a wrestling show I had regretted attending even before my friend texted me to let me know Santana was taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning. My friend Grim and I then huddled around my phone, following the MLB At Bat app as it ever so slowly updating us as to what was going on in the game. When Santana recorded the final out, I stood up and yelled out a cheer…as Big Van Vader was stalling outside the ring in his match with 2 Cold Scorpio. I got some looks.
Unfortunately, that’s all Mets fans really have for Johan Santana, a few isolated moments. He only pitched one complete season for us out of six, and that was his first season. He finished third in the Cy Young voting that year, perhaps robbed of an award he would not have deserved by a bullpen that blew seven leads for him. That was the season capped off by Game 161, which feels so long ago by now. It doesn’t help that the Mets promptly lost Game 162, overshadowing Santana’s gutsy pitching performance, and really putting a damper on a fine season by Santana.
After that game, things went downhill quickly for Santana. He threw 166 innings in 2009, before bone chips in his pitching elbow ended his season. He threw 199 innings before anterior capsule surgery ended his 2010 season, and his 2011 season as well.
He returned in 2012, and for a few months, if you squinted hard enough and pretended, it was like Johan was back again. He didn’t throw as hard, but he was as smart and tenacious as ever. Everything culminated with the no-hitter on June 1, but after that, things took a steep trip downward. Santana had an 8.27 ERA in his last ten starts, allowing 45 hits and 18 walks in 49 innings, and amazingly, 13 of those 45 hits were home runs. Santana was always a flyball pitcher, but this was extreme, even for him. Something wasn’t right. I don’t know if something happened in the no-hitter, but considering his latest injury is another tear of his anterior capsule, I think it was something that was bound to happen at some point regardless.
This leaves me with mixed thoughts. The good memories include a sublime 2008 season, a dominant performance to stay the Mets’ execution one day, and the first no-hitter in team history, along with approximately 74 other starts, most of them good, some of them great. The bad include two whole missed seasons, three other seasons cut short due to injury, a few poor starts after the no-hitter, and $137.5 million of mostly dead money over the course of six years.
I’m not going to go so far as to say the $137.5 million was worth spending. That money failed to help the Mets move any closer towards a World Series championship, or even a playoff spot. Not all of that is Santana’s fault, of course, but for a team whose owners quickly learned they were a lot poorer than they realized, to have that much dead money on the team’s ledger undoubtedly hurts quite a bit.
But if you asked me am I glad Johan Santana was a Met? That answer is an unequivocal yes. Santana starts were always an event. Every Santana start brought the promise of the team’s first no-hitter, until he delivered on that promise last June 1. He was a great pitcher through and through, one who made the team more fun to follow when he was healthy than it was when he was hurt. He didn’t quite achieve the brilliance in New York that he had in Minnesota, and he didn’t push this team over the hump towards a world championship like Mets fans were hoping on February 2, 2008, but it was still a treat to witness his greatness while we had the chance.
Also, in case I didn’t make this clear earlier…HE THREW THE FIRST NO HITTER IN METS HISTORY. No matter what, his legacy as a New York Met is secure, even if things didn’t go according to plan.