You could almost hear the Brewers bench let out a collective sigh of relief when they saw Pedro Feliciano take the mound for the ninth inning.
No longer would they have to face a dominating Johan Santana who had held them in check for the first eight innings of the game. All they could muster was three hits against Johan, who effectively confounded the Astros all night with his fastball, slider and cunning changeup. Johan was dealing.
On the other side of the field, the Brewers’ ace Yovani Gallardo was proving to be every bit as good as Johan, seemingly matching him pitch for pitch. It was a classic pitchers duel, and like all great games, you had to have a winner and a loser.
After the eighth inning, fans wondered if Gallardo or Santana would come out to start the ninth. Both of them had had just eclipsed the century mark in pitches thrown in the previous inning. Maybe, just maybe, the Mets had lasted long enough to crack the Brewers bullpen open, one of the worst in the National League. But alas, there was the young warrior Yovani Gallardo, taking the mound for one final turn.
The Mets quickly started threatening when after an Alex Cora groundout, Jason Bay singled to give the team a chance. Another out later, and David Wright draws a walk advancing the winning run to second base, with the team’s best clutch hitter coming to the plate in Angel Pagan. But that was as far as the Mets would go, and all the arguing by Pagan wasn’t going to change the result of that third called strike. Gallardo punched him out and had shut down the Mets for nine straight innings. Would Johan Santana come out in the bottom of the ninth and match Gallardo?
Unfortunately for the Mets, the answer to that question would be no, and what had been a brilliant pitchers duel had come to an end. It seems that 105 pitches was all that Jerry Manuel was willing to go with Santana, and like so many other times when he was pulled out of a masterful performance, the Mets would pay the ultimate price and go down in the flames.
Can you ever imagine any other manager pulling his ace starter while he was pitching a three-hit shutout?
What other Major League ace, past or present has ever been treated this way?
Afterward, while sitting at his locker, Johan Santana said the same thing he said all the other countless times the Mets lost a game in which he never should have been pulled.
“I was feeling loose, my arm felt great and I was ready to go on, but this was not my decision. It was the manager’s decision. The way everything was going, the situation, the atmosphere, everything, you don’t want to come out of the game.”
Santana was stifling hitters who were helpless against his lethal changeup, and this Brewers team was no ordinary offense, they are ranked first or second in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and RBIs this season.
After hurling three straight shutouts coming into this game, the Mets ace had tacked on eight more scoreless innings to bring the scoreless streak to 35 innings, but that’s as far as it would go.
The Mets could have made history before Jerry Manuel intervened by removing the best pitcher on the team for one vastly more inferior in a nothing-nothing game featuring two of the best pitchers in the league.
Johan should have had the opportunity to match Gallardo inning for inning. Johan should have had the opportunity to go out in the ninth and get that 36th scoreless inning.
The Mets have always treated Johan Santana like less than an ace despite giving him the richest contract in annual salary of any other pitcher in the Majors.
Johan Santana is an ace in name only as far as the Mets are concerned. They act as though Santana has a warning label on his left arm that reads, “Discard after 100 pitches.”
He’s never been trusted to go long, even when he’s dealing on the mound and is tirelessly dominating. He’s just 31 but since arriving at 29, he’s always been treated as if he was 19 or 39.
I am thankful that Santana is such a team player. In his last four seasons with the Twins, Johan had averaged 18 wins, and despite a lower ERA with the Mets, he has averaged just 15 wins in his first two seasons. It should have been at least the same 18 as with the Twins if not more. Guillermo Mota alone was responsible for blowing three wins for him in 2008 when we missed the post season by just one game.
How many more times must we sacrifice a gem by Johan Santana? Or worse yet, miss the post season by just one single game? A game we should have won, but didn’t because Johan Santana wasn’t allowed to pitch past his 100th pitch?
This is starting to feel like a Greek tragedy.
On a totally irrelevant note, I just found out that Mets Merized Online is now a Page Rank 5 by Google! Google page rank is a strong indicator of how much influence a site has with other websites on the internet. This comes at a time when we’ve already eclipsed a daily average of over 125K hits per day. Thanks to all of you for your overwhelming support! We love you guys!