The Tenth Inning – Week 10 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
One hundred and thirty-four. 134. That’s how many pitches it took for Johan Santana to change history on Friday night. As a lifelong Mets fan, I’ve lived through Kerry Rogers in ’99, Timo Perez in ’00, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, and Adam Wainwright in ’06, and the devastating collapses of ’07 and ’08 â and that’s just what I can cognitively remember (I was 3 in ’87 and 4 in ’88). I remember Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, and Eddie Murray. I remember Bernard Gilkey, Mark Clark, Lance Johnson, and Jeff Kent. I remember Jeromy Burnitz, Mo Vaughn, Robbie Alomar, and Steve Trachsel. And finally, for one night, I and every other Mets fan can remember Johan Santana.
To be fair, one no-hitter doesn’t erase the difficult times this team has endured over the past quarter century. But for one night, the second team in the country’s largest city took center stage thanks to the left arm of the staff ace (and a fair ball called foul, and a great catch in left field by Mike Baxter, but we’re letting all of that side from here on out) who, quite frankly, needed to do exactly what he did â and the confidence it gave to the club cannot be underestimated.
With all of the injuries the Mets have suffered the past three years, it’s not surprising that the team finished under .500 in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In order to get back to respectability, the Mets needed to establish themselves as a legitimate contender across the game, but more importantly to themselves. The biggest obstacle to winning, aside from actual talent and ability, is belief â belief in an individual or group’s ability to win. A no-hitter goes into the books as one win, just as a 12-11 slugfest would, but the confidence and attitude that one game provided the entire Mets organization is something that can translate to long-term success for the rest of the season.
The NL East is jampacked with solid baseball teams, all with injury issues and flaws, but all with plenty of talent and ability. If the Mets and Phillies situations were reversed, there’s no way the Mets would have been able to play .500 baseball through the first two months without their two best hitters because the confidence levels would not have allowed it. The Phillies believe they can win regardless of the situation and players who are or aren’t hurt, whereas the Mets â and the other four teams â are in the process of learning how to do just that. Over the course of the season, the Mets will be able to reference Friday night’s gem from Santana as proof that they can do exactly what others teams have done over the past five seasons â win when it matters on the big stage.
Likewise, Johan Santana needed that game on an individual basis. The only person who ever came back to be even close to the same pitcher after undergoing the same surgery as Santana was Chein-Ming Wang, and he’s continued to struggle with injuries on and off ever since. Perhaps not throwing a single pitch at the major league level in 2011 was a smart move for Santana’s rehabilitation, but as so many players have said during the rehab from a major injury or surgery, the biggest step towards knowing that they’re “back” is the first time they push it to the absolute limit and it responds as it always had prior to the injury. The next start for Santana will be huge, but to wake up Saturday morning with the shoulder still intact and no more pain than usual is quite possibly the biggest sign of good things to come for both Santana and the Mets.
The season is six months long, and when Wednesday, October 3 rolls around I would be extremely surprised to see the Mets atop the NL East. It’s much more likely that they’ll be in contention for a wild card spot, but regardless of which playoff spot they’re fighting for, the Mets will hopefully have learned from Friday night what it means to battle, fight, and ultimately win when the pressure mounts to a boiling point. It’s what defines playoff teams, and the Mets can be one this season if they rely on the lessons learned from a historical Friday night.
Playoff “Dead” List
Three series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
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