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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Mortal on the Mound

In Johan Santana’s last four starts, he has thrown 25.2 innings and allowed 17 earned runs. That’s an ERA of 5.96. So Is Johan Santana not pitching like himself, or is this the way Johan Santana pitches now?

When Johan is smacked around early and digs his team a hole as was the case Saturday afternoon, what’s the root cause? After effects of elbow surgery? Well-publicized off-field issues we don’t want to think about but he has to? The distraction of facing his old teammates? A spirit frayed from pitching well so often with no run support (which, for what it’s worth, he didn’t get today either)? Or is it just one of those stretches when great pitchers subtly but decidedly shift into the phase of their careers mortality forces them to struggle through?

I don’t know. When it comes to Johan Santana, I tend to watch through the prism of September 28, 2008, the day when No. 57 carried the Mets on shoulders as broad as the Whitestone Bridge to the doorstep of the promised land. When he completed that instantly legendary three-hit, short-rest shutout on one good knee, I probably made some internal deal that would forgive his inevitable decline across the five years yet to come on the six-year, $137.5 million deal he signed when the Mets adopted him from that nice family in Minnesota that couldn’t afford to keep him.

Swell way for the Twins to pay us back.

Though if was just revenge/familiarity coming home to roost, you’d chalk it up to a silly string of coincidence — Pedro couldn’t beat the Red Sox in 2006, just as fellow Cy Youngsmen T#m Gl@v!ne, Randy Jones and Warren Spahn couldn’t rack up a W vs. their old teams in their first starts against them as Mets, according to the club’s helpful media relations department. It would be as good an explanation as any…of course, explanations are always at hand when Johan doesn’t quite have it.

• The Twins (6 IP, 5 ER) are a fine and patient offensive unit.

• So are the Yankees from last weekend’s Santana loss (6 IP, 4 ER), and that was mostly a matter of one inning culminating in Teixeira’s grand slam, which was reminiscent of that one bad inning against the Nationals in April (and that other grand slam, to Josh Willingham).

• The Indians from the week before (7 IP, 4 ER) aren’t any great shakes but they were known to be trouble for Johan in his American League Central days.

• The Padres on June 10 (6.2 IP, 4 ER)? Not a juggernaut, but a first-place team. And Johan was going on eight days rest.

Was he overly amped for the Twins? On the radio, Howie reported his velocity was fine, but his location wasn’t Johanesque. Do the repercussions from the Lee County Sheriff’s office have something to do with his pitching? That’s for Johan to know. The elbow? He himself said the post-surgery recovery is ongoing.

There are many reasons to decide Johan Santana is now a mere mortal, yet he’s also pitched some genuine gems in 2010. In his five starts spanning May 13 to June 2, he was almost spotless: 36.2 innings, 3 earned runs. That’s an ERA of 0.74. That’s the Johan we not just know and love, but had grown to rely on. When we he threw his final pitch on June 2 in San Diego, we felt, per those loathsome New York Life drop-ins, safe and secure anticipating his next start — the Mets might not score for him, but he would keep us in it on his own if he had to…just like he did that soggy Saturday at the end of 2008.

We’re now left to wonder what we’ve got on the one fifth day we thought was above reproach. When he starts again, Johan Santana will not have harvested a gem in nearly a month. On track record, you give Johan every benefit of the doubt, but as Met lefties go, he hasn’t been any more reliable of late than Jon Niese or Hisanori Takahashi. I sorely wish that spoke volumes on behalf of Niese and Takahashi and reflected not at all on any change in the season or career trajectory of Johan Santana.

It’s just four starts. And that aforementioned Nationals start (5 IP, 5 ER) . And the Saturday he felt his way through the Giants’ not-so-imposing batting order (7.2 IP, 4 ER). And that Sunday night disaster against the Phillies (3.2 IP, 10 ER). There have been sixteen Santana starts in all in 2010. Nine of them have approached vintage 2008-2009 Johan (0.73 ERA in 62 innings). Seven of them have been the stuff of pitching mortals (7.71 ERA in 42 innings).

Technically, we’re all mortals. I was just hoping Johan transcended such technicalities.

10 comments to Mortal on the Mound

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Caryn / and Scott Bayne, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: Johan Santana is either not pitching like himself or is pitching like who he's becoming. #Mets […]

  • As someone who was present on the aforementioned 9/28/08 game, with my son and wife in tow, I refuse to believe that this is anything more than an aberration, an anomaly caused by oil flooding into the gulf or some other non-Metsian occurrence that I can otherwise attribute this decidedly anti-Johanian behavior to.

    Of course, I’ve been drinking since 5 PM today. Take this for what it is worth.

  • oldtimebaseball

    I don’t know whether Santana went through periods like this with the Twins. It’s possible, I suppose. Then, he has the reputation of being better in the second half of the season. The almost worst case scenario I can think of is he struggles through many of his starts as he has recently, but shows occasional flashes of brilliance where he dominates like the old Johan. The real worst case scenario is one of several I don’t want to think about. I do believe the real scenario will be at least somewhat better than the one described above.

    It must be said that Carl Pavano pitched a hell of a game. I can say that since I have no reason to dislike him, now that he’s no longer a Yankee.

  • Andee

    Regarding that sheriff’s report, it’s kind of sad that the best-case scenario here is that Johan is a hypocrite with a sham family-man image who doesn’t respect women. And the worst case is that he’s a sociopath. Unlike a lot of fans, though, I have no trouble believing that the latter might be true; I think women inventing rape charges out of whole cloth is pretty rare, and when it happens, it’s usually to cover up another crime taking place simultaneously (cf. Sam Cooke’s murder). Not enough tangible evidence to indict =/= nothing bad happened.

    I would love to believe this was just a spurned mistress out for revenge, and that’s certainly possible. But considering the life-risking ordeal women have to put themselves and their entire families through in order to charge a wealthy, famous person with rape and go through a trial, the unlikelihood of obtaining a conviction, and the danger of being countersued or even thrown in jail if she’s not believed (and considering that alpha males like Johan live in a world where people say no to them so infrequently they might not even know what it means), I can’t just shrug it off as nothing. Chances are, there are a lot more incidents like this we never hear about involving ballplayers, because most of the women involved don’t dare tell anyone.

    As for his arm, I can’t imagine all those nights sleeping on the couch are helping. But this is a preview of what could easily happen with someone like Cliff Lee if the Mets sign him to a five or six-year deal. A pitcher over 30 in the post-PED era could very well fall off the table very quickly.

    • oldtimebaseball

      That’s a good summation. We root for our team, warts and all, and so we root for Santana to win games for us, whether he’s a “hypocrite with a sham family-man image who doesn’t respect women” or a “sociopath”. I suppose that makes us all enablers of this kind of behavior in our “heroes”. Sad.

  • patrick o'hern

    Right after his surgery last season,Johan said no worries”I’ve had the surgery before and won the Cy the next year.” Now it’s “the doctors tell me it’s a year before I’ll feel right.” We are starting to see many excuses with our ace.It’s a shame-was never as pumped up about a Met as i was after that Marlin game in 2008 and when he stood on the mound in 2009 telling Manuel”I am the MAN! Never thought I’d see a Sam Cook death comparison on this site either.That’s why I love this site.

  • Rich P

    If he had more run support we wouldn’t be having this conversation. His won/loss record would be adequate enough
    for just about all of us and the over-all performance of the team would set things in the proper context..
    Rich P

    • This isn’t about his/our wins or losses. We won the Cleveland game and he didn’t look right. That night we hit. I hope we hit for him more than we have. I hope the “second half” pattern continues for him, too.

  • […] working, thereby forestalling by at least one start the precipitous decline feared on his behalf in this space five days […]

  • […] days ago, I worried aloud about whether Johan Santana was definitively on the downside of his career. A pair of sterling […]