God bless Johan Santana.
In the beginning he didn't look particularly on his game — the Cubs were getting pretty fair swings against him, and I was more than a little sick to my stomach thinking of finding Johan on the wrong end of a 3-1 or 4-2 score, the recipient of stoic attaboys and brave shrugs. Even Seaver couldn't shut the other guy down every night. Can't kill the guy for losing once every three months. But Santana seemed to gather himself in the fifth, disarming the pointy part of the Cubs order with just six pitches. And then the nuttiness began. After Sean Marshall erased Ryan Church on three pitches, Nick Evans got hit by a riding fastball and Santana launched a little roller and half of a baseball bat in the general direction of Mark DeRosa. The bat overtook the ball and tapped it once again, shades of Mike Sharperson scoring Stan Javier a million years ago for the Dodgers against the Giants, and all hands were safe. (If you click through that link, don't miss the stated reason for Tommy Lasorda's ejection. I love Retrosheet.) Marshall spread his arms in disbelief and dismay, and a wild hope sprang into being in orange-and-blue hearts everywhere. Jose Reyes struck out, but Luis Castillo managed a walk (I still blame him for everything, so don't even start) and up came David Wright. David Wright who, for all his heroics and all our adoration, tends to squeeze bats into sawdust with the bases loaded, feeling it's his solemn duty to hit five-run homers. Not this time — Wright shortened up his swing and poked one over the infield to get us even.
Santana survived his personal Tommy Hutton, the otherwise-not-particularly-immortal Reed Johnson (now 12 for 22 against His Johanness), and next inning the Mets jumped all over Chad Gaudin, with Jose Jose Jose Jose's 200th hit the triple-in-the-corner exclamation point, complete with Jose all but turning a celebratory cartwheel at third. If Miguel Oliva felt a twinge of annoyance somewhere, fuck him — that was one of those baseball moments where all the accumulated disappointment and doubt of a team's struggles explode and dissipate in a second of release, transmuting agony into joy. (I'll always think of John Olerud blasting a grand slam off Greg Maddux after the Mets' near-death experience back in 1999 — I have the vertical jump of a box turtle, but that night I leapt into the air as the ball sizzled over the infielders' heads and I didn't come down until an inning later.)
Santana, Wright and Reyes. Not a bad blueprint.
The rest? Well, I'm now on a first-name basis with Phil Cuzzi, whose strike zone was apparently determined by some permutation of the Zodiac, a mood ring and whatever he divined from pawing through the entrails of a spring lamb. (“PHIL!” I bayed at Cuzzi in the eighth, after his determined refusal to ring up Mark DeRosa ran Johan's pitch count higher and higher. Mild to the point of invisibility for me, but I was too frightened for a decent show of profanity.) Pedro Feliciano provided the usual Met-reliever nausea, but Luis Ayala looked better than he has in some time (possibly helped, it must be admitted, by Lou Piniella sticking with the JV) and we were home.
The Phillies have lost. While I've been writing this, the Pirates have given up a lead against the Brewers, taken it back (against Guillermo Mota, no less), and allowed the Brewers to tie. Final score to be determined. Whatever happens there, even Santana's arm can't be reloaded until this weekend at the earliest — Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden await against the enigmatic Oliver Perez and the faded Pedro Martinez. So be it. We'll worry about tomorrow when it becomes today. Even when the news is the happiest, there's only so much a Met fan's heart can take.
P.S. Happy Yankee Elimination Day, everybody!