The fact that Johan Santana won a game after the All-Star Break was nothing new. After all, he’s now 59-17 in his career after the All-Star Break and 9-0 with the Mets. The only thing new about it was the team he defeated.
Santana pitched seven shutout innings and his teammates provided him with all the runs he needed in the sixth inning as the Mets defeated the Braves 5-1. It marked the first career victory for Santana against the Braves in seven starts. Despite lowering his career ERA against Atlanta to 1.96, Santana is now only 1-4 against them.
The game began as a typical Santana start, meaning he was brilliant and the Mets’ bats were still sleeping in the hotel. The game remained a scoreless tie until the sixth inning, when the bats finally stopped hitting the snooze button and started hitting baseballs.
Luis Castillo led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a groundout by Daniel Murphy. After David Wright was intentionally walked (one of three intentional passes drawn by Wright on the day), former Brave Jeff Francoeur greeted his old team with an infield single to load the bases. It was the first hit by Francoeur against the Braves since his trade to the Mets last week. This time, the Mets took advantage of their bases loaded situation. A walk to Jeremy Reed and a fielder’s choice hit into by Omir Santos plated the first two runs of the game, breaking the scoreless tie.
After being handed the lead, Santana had to fight his way through the seventh inning. The Braves loaded the bases on three singles by Matt Diaz, ex-Met Ryan Church and pinch-hitter Garret Anderson. Unlike the Mets in the sixth inning, the Braves could not capitalize on their bases loaded situation against a tiring Johan Santana. ‘Han The Man struck out Nate McLouth and got Martin Prado to ground out to David Wright to end the threat for the Braves.
Santana was removed from the game after his latest valiant effort, pitching seven shutout innings while giving up five hits, two walks and striking out five hitters. However, four relievers were needed to get through a difficult eighth inning.
Pedro Feliciano started the eighth in relief of Santana and promptly gave up a leadoff homer to the Mets’ long-time nemesis, Larry “Chipper” Jones to cut the Mets’ lead to 2-1. Brian McCann followed with a single to center, ending Feliciano’s day. Sean Green came in to pitch and was helped tremendously by pinch-runner Diory Hernandez being caught stealing for the first out. Unfortunately, Green then proceeded to walk Yunel Escobar, putting the trying run on base. Green got Matt Diaz to pop out to short for the second out of the inning and was replaced by Pat Misch. Misch could not retire a batter, giving up a single to Casey Kotchman and a four-pitch walk to Ryan Church. Brian Stokes then came in to face pinch-hitter Greg Norton with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Visions of horrible defeats must have been dancing in the heads of Mets fans. However, Stokes saved the day and Santana’s victory by striking out Norton.
The Mets then put the game away by scoring three insurance runs in the ninth inning, with the runs scoring on Angel Pagan’s triple, Luis Castillo’s perfect suicide squeeze bunt and Jeff Francoeur’s seeing-eye single up the middle.
Frankie Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth inning, capping the victory with a strikeout of Chipper Jones. The victory improved Santana’s record to 11-7 and closed the Mets to within eight games of the Phillies, who were rained out in Florida. They are also 1½ games behind third-place Atlanta and two games behind the second-place Marlins.
The Mets will try to salvage a split of the four-game series in Atlanta on Sunday when they send Fernando Nieve to the mound against Javier Vazquez. The game will be televised as part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, but the first pitch will be at 6:05 PM to accomodate for the ESPY awards. Perhaps the early evening shadows will help Nieve rebound from his recent winless stretch. Mets fans would have liked a better second-half start than a split in Atlanta, but if they can take the last two games at Turner Field heading into a three-game series with hapless Washington, the mood would definitely be better.