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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Four Interceptions, Six Earned Runs

“I can still play football. I look at films day after day, week in and week out, and I know I can still play. I feel good throwing — there’s not a pass in the book I can’t throw. My arm is good no matter what people say and my legs are okay. I’ve had problems with my knees just once this year. But what can people expect when you get knocked down eight out of 10 times? What the hell do you do?”

That was 33-year-old Joe Namath on December 12, 1976, following a 42-3 Jets loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Joe threw 15 passes that cold day at Shea. Four of them were completed. Four of them were intercepted.

“You know, my season has been a rollercoaster. A lot of ups and downs. Good days. Bad days. But I’m very positive about everything because I’m coming back from a major surgery, and I’ve been able to be out there every five games. […] Right now my shoulder is fine. I don’t have any issues with it. It’s just that it has been a long season for me.”

That was 33-year-old Johan Santana on Friday night, following a 6-4 Mets loss to the Washington Nationals. Johan set down all nine batters he faced in his first three innings at Nationals Park, but proceeded to give up six earned runs and nine hits in the fourth and fifth, including a grand slam to Michael Morse and a two-run homer to Bryce Harper. He’s allowed at least six earned runs in each of his past five starts, something no Met pitcher has ever done.

Namath, who led the Jets to their greatest glory before injuries overtook his brilliance, never played another game for New York after the debacle against Cincinnati. He was signed by the Rams in 1977, started four games for L.A. before being benched and retired at the end of his thirteenth professional season.

Santana, who is under contract to the Mets through next year (his thirteenth major league season), has crafted a career that can also be described as both brilliant and injury-riddled. While his significance to the Mets franchise is not nearly on a par with what Namath meant to the Jets, he has been, for reassuring stretches and incandescent moments, immensely important around here since 2008. It is his outsized presence that has made his periodic absences resonate so thoroughly. And as with Namath, it is the vivid memory of what Santana has done in a Mets uniform that leaves a Mets fan incredulous that he can look perfectly fine for a while and speak nonchalantly of how perfectly fine he feels afterwards, but somewhere in the middle of that rendition of reality is the starker version: another short outing, another ton of runs, another bushel of passes that wind up in the hands of the Bengal secondary.

When Namath was done as a Jet, his most glorious times were eight years in the past. There would be flashes after Super Bowl III, but it was never the same. The injuries wouldn’t let it be. Johan’s only been a Met for five seasons, and one of those was spent furiously recovering from surgery…as was the offseason that followed it. Really, there was no offseason when it came to rehabilitation.

“I’ve been throwing baseballs since December 15,” Johan mentioned after losing to the Nats, maybe as a legitimate excuse for running on empty in the fourth and fifth innings, maybe as a stream of consciousness an all-time great emits as he tries to figure out why he’s not only not pitching like an all-time great but isn’t pitching remotely passably as of August 17. He says he feels good. Terry Collins says “his command was good” for three innings. Dan Warthen says, “It’s just a matter of building that arm strength back up.” Johan’s been at it since December when everybody else has been throwing baseballs since February. Nobody among those who have a say came out and said Friday that it’s time to call August October and give Johan a rest. But nobody in that group was ruling it out, either.

You never want to rule anything out with guys the ilk of a Namath or a Santana. You’ve seen them do too much to think they’re no more than one pass or one pitch from getting it together and resuming their careers in uninterrupted fashion at the level to which you and they have become accustomed.

Sometimes that’s the problem.

8 comments to Four Interceptions, Six Earned Runs

  • Gary in Suffolk

    How many Mets fans were praying on the night of June 1st, “Oh God, please let Santana pitch a no-hitter! I don’t care if he ever gets another win for the Mets again! Just let it be tonight!”?
    Your prayers have been carefully considered and here we are.

  • Steve D

    I have never been a professional athlete…but I do play softball. A few weeks back, I tweaked my hamstring…it was very mild. After ice and massage, it felt great in a few days and I was going to play again one week after the tweak. I had never had that injury before and was nervous I could do worse damage. I did a lot of stretching before and during the game. It felt 85% and I was able to play with little obvious affect. You would not know I was hurt in any way. However it affected my mind…my head was distracted trying not to get hurt again. Though I went 4-5 with 3 great plays at third base, I made a stupid mental error, trying to take a needless extra base to end the game.

    I believe Johan has a similar issue…he is healthy enough to pitch without affecting his stuff, but he has a minor pain or is just tired. He worries that this could develop into something worse…after what he’s been through, do you blame him? That little bit of worry is enough to throw off the command of a finely tuned athlete like Johan. With a straight face he and Collins can say that he feels ok…but the results are anything but. With his stuff now, he need total concentration to outwit the hitters.

    Did those extra 20 pitches during the no-hitter make a difference? Only Johan will ever know. He has been on a clear decline since after his peak in 2006 actually. His days as an ace are likely over, but shutting him down now is the right thing to do and maybe he can be a number 2 or 3 starter next year.

  • Dave

    The worst possible news we can get is what we keep hearing…that Johan is healthy, his ankle is healed, his arm feels fine, etc. I really hope he’s lying, because if he were injured, at least there would be a likely explanation for his recent performance. Otherwise we’re stuck with the possibility that he’s exceeded the number of pitches his arm had in it this year, or worse, he’s done, and next year the big dilemma is going to be how do they let him exit with some dignity.

    BTW, I was at that Jets game. Our group was divided in two separate sets of seats, and knowing that it was going to be bitterly cold (Greenland can’t be any colder than Shea used to get in December), we jokingly agreed on our way in that if at any time the Jets were down by 40 points, we’d meet back at the car. At least they beat that point spread, and we got to sit through the whole thing, and I think I may have had some frozen internal organs by the end of the game.

  • Jacobs27

    When we went through this with Pedro, he was never really healthy again after the surgery.

    However, the time off between his last season with the Mets and when the Phillies picked him up did seem to rejuvenate him a bit. So maybe it could do the same for Santana if they shut him down.

  • eric b

    I know it’s probably nuts, but I’m holding out hope that Santana will look better by the end of the season, and significantly better next year. He looked great through June this year (even after the no-hitter, really, he was fine for a couple of starts…

    He looked great through three innings last night…

    His veolocity looks ok (same as it’s been the last couple of years before the injury).

    His command is obviously wonky, but it seems like that could be correctable.

    I guess I’m just unwilling to see him go out like this.

    Of course, I’m still holding out hope for Mike Pelfrey too, so you can’t trust me.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Here’s hoping at the 25 year year celebration of the no-hitter we
    not hear Johan utter “I want to kiss you.”

  • Patrick O'Hern

    “we do not hear.”
    Damn english language still tripping me up.

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