When The Ace Is No Longer A Given

The Mets have an outstanding record in comparison to what most Met fans expected. Almost nobody expected a first place position at this juncture of the season. Almost nobody expected that they would play with such vigor, good defense, and timely hitting. I can safely say that NOBODY expected our ace, the only pitcher that the Orange and Blue Nation considered dependable would offer up 3 and 2/3 innings and 10 R against their division rivals in a rubber match. I believe we have some warning signs dating back to last year. The performances were shorter and the bullpen had to be used more and there were several first innings that proved fatal and ultimately resulted in no decisions or a “L” in the win-loss column. So much time was spent on how the four pitchers would do after our Ace. All this with the assumption that as long as they did moderately well, Ace will handle the rest. The pitching staff is running a 3.23 ERA before tonight’s performance. Santana himself was 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA. In case you were wondering, yes, that just happened.

My question is what just happened. I know there’s a collective groan amongst fans that were unable to swallow that the team was in first place and waiting for the next shoe to drop. I’m proud to say I’m not one of them. I have, however, pangs of concern about what we’re witnessing. This is one game so panic shouldn’t be widespread but are we looking at the beginning of the end of our Ace, Johan Santana? Ace has allowed four long balls in this game for the third time in his illustrious career. A total of ten runs which is a career high. Walking pitchers (47 year old pitchers at that) to force in runs? Then following that up with a grand slam? What is this? Is there a physical problem here that we’re not aware of? Johan would play through it if there was for sure. That’s just the kind of guy he is and that’s admirable. What should we expect going forward? I. for one, can live with a 13-9 record with a 3.15 ERA but there’s no guarantee of last year’s performance. Age and time catches up with us all.

Santana currently is in a six year, $137.5 million contract with a full no trade clause. The contract includes a $25 million 2014 club option with a $5.5 million buyout. The salary distribution is as follows: $20 million in 2009, $21 million in 2010, $22.5 million in 2011, $24 million in 2012, and $25.5 million in 2013. A lot of money going out. Though we may not understand the complexities of this kind of contract, fans alike feel that this kind of dough should provide confidence. Assurances even that when he hits the mound, we are in a position to win every single time. I’ll confess that that’s how I view it even if no one else will own up to it. This kind of performance makes me nervous. I have the same degree of confidence when Johan is pitching as I do for Big Pelf or a few of the other Met pitchers. When Greinke, Carpenter, Sabathia, or Halladay are on the schedule, it’s expected that they will keep their team in the game, if not, dominate the opponents. This is a results driven business. If I were guessing, I would say his issues are physical and not mental in nature. He’s a smart pitcher and has great command of his pitches for the most part.

The breakdown of that fateful bottom half of the 4th inning practically says it all: Santana to Utley: Fastball, Fastball. Double. Santana to Howard: Slider, Slider, Fastball, Fastball, Fastball. Out. Santana to Ibanez: Slider, Fastball, Fastball. Single. Santana to Castro: First pitch, Changeup. Single. Santana to Ruiz: Changeup, Changeup, Fastball, Fastball. Walk. Santana to Moyer: 6 straight fastballs. Walk. Santana to Victorino: Changeup, Fastball. Grand Slam. Am I the only one that had a thought that something may be amiss here? If so, I would love to hear your insights and thoughts. It just seems to me that with all the “givens” that are present on this team both good and bad, when our Ace takes the mound, it’s no longer a given that he will get us six solid innings or more or a win. My contention remains that this team will compete and claw and perhaps even make the playoffs. But the one “previously thought to be” solid thing has now been added to the many questions our team has. The same column where Jose Reyes and Oliver Perez currently reside.