NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes came to town Tuesday, for those who had not heard. A rookie, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, robbed him of a hit in his first at-bat, lifting a Mets team that had placed two men on the disabled list earlier in the day. Another rookie, Zach Lutz, made his Major League debut as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded, while manager Terry Collins replaced one of his best hitters, Ike Davis, for a different pinch-hitter in a critical spot.
Marlins pitchers walked four straight Mets at one juncture, before Lucas Duda injured another reliever with his game-winning hit. Fans at Citi Field cheered Reyes and booed him all the while, holding up signs and offering their opinions, free of charge.
And yet in the aftermath of a wild 2-1 victory over the Marlins, all anyone in the home clubhouse could talk about was Johan Santana.
"Johan," third baseman David Wright said, "looked fantastic."
Entering the game with a history of vintage performances opposite Marlins starter Josh Johnson, Santana followed up one of the worst starts of his career with easily his most dominant outing of the season. The left-hander struck out 11, marking the 50th double-digit strikeout game of his career. In doing so, he held not only Reyes, but the rest of the Marlins in check.
Yet in Santana's 18 innings so far this season, the Mets have not supported him with a single run. Tuesday only extended that streak, putting Santana on the hook for a loss after two seventh-inning hits and a defensive misplay resulted in Miami's first run.
It was not until Duda smacked a line drive off Edward Mujica's pitching hand in the eighth that the Mets finally put themselves in position to win, handing the ball to closer Frank Francisco and watching him convert his first save since April 8.
"It was fun," Wright said. "Anytime you go against those dynamic players -- and they've got a bunch of them -- it's fun. Especially when you pull one out the way we did."
The way the Mets pulled this one off was by leaning on Santana for 105 pitches and nearly seven full innings. The only early scare the Marlins gave Santana came from Reyes, who greeted his former teammate with a deep drive to center field in his first at-bat. But Nieuwenhuis made a running grab of that ball, stunning a player who is now batting .215 in his first season as a Marlin.
"It's just a matter of time," Reyes said of his slump. "Right now, we aren't swinging the bat the way that we want to, especially me. I'm the guy you want on base."
Neither team reached base with any consistency until the seventh inning, when Santana -- nearing 100 pitches for the first time this season -- allowed a two-out single to Giancarlo Stanton. The next batter, Gaby Sanchez, hit a double to left field, where Mike Baxter retrieved it and threw his relay off-line. Though shortstop Ruben Tejada still caught the ball with more than enough time to throw out Stanton at the plate, he delivered a low throw that catcher Josh Thole could not handle. Stanton scored, temporarily putting Santana on the hook for his third loss in four starts.
That the left-hander ultimately received a no-decision was in part thanks to Duda, and in part to a Miami bullpen that walked four consecutive batters with two outs in the seventh. The fourth of those, to Thole, plated the Mets' first run.
"To draw four bases on balls and score a run that inning, that's the team that I know we have," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're willing to be patient at the plate until we get something we know he can handle."
The Mets' only regret was that they could not provide their offense for Santana. Despite strong pitching in three of his four starts this season, the left-hander is 0-2 because the Mets have not plated a single run while he has been in the game. Not that Santana minds on days such as Tuesday. The Mets have now won two of those games in spite of their lack of early offense, and should win more if Santana continues to pitch as he did against the Marlins.
"At some point, they'll start hitting," Santana said. "It's part of the game."
So too are reunions. When Santana took the mound in the first inning, he did not look at Reyes for fear that he would start laughing. But considering what the Mets endured earlier Tuesday, receiving news of serious injuries for Jason Bay and Mike Pelfrey, the shortstop's return to Flushing turned into nothing more than a sideshow.
Simply put, the Mets have bigger issues these days, with winning baseball topping the list. More than anyone else, Santana has the ability to help the Mets do it.
"That's what, for me, your big pitchers do," Collins said. "They stop stuff. They stop streaks. They stop losing streaks. And they go out there and give you what you've got to get to give you a chance to win the game."