NEW YORK -- Pitcher wins may be a dying statistic, increasingly glossed over by front-office types and pundits. But they nonetheless remain one of the standards of the game, in part because pitchers themselves care about them.
Until Saturday, Johan Santana had not won a game since Sept. 2, 2010, a night far more bitter than sweet for him. Santana left that outing after five innings, underwent left shoulder surgery shortly thereafter and did not return to a Major League mound for 19 months. When he finally did, Santana endured one of the most rotten streaks of run support in franchise history.
That is all in the past tense. For the second time in six starts, the Mets supported Santana, and for the first time this season, it was enough. Though not quite as sharp as he has been of late, Santana never loosened his grip on Saturday's 4-3 victory over the D-backs, throwing a season-high 108 pitches in winning his first game since 2010.
"That's what aces do," manager Terry Collins said, referring to the team's own four-game losing skid. "They stop streaks. They stop losing streaks. They take it upon themselves to do that. They know when times are tough, they've got to raise their games up. He's that guy."
The Mets did not score a single run for Santana in any of his first four outings, then did not score quite enough in his fifth start of the season. But they scored just enough Saturday, chasing D-backs starter Patrick Corbin on Mike Nickeas' two-run double in the fourth. Two batters later, Andres Torres knocked in an additional two runs with a double off Josh Collmenter.
It was all Santana would need. The left-hander gave up an early run on Ryan Roberts' solo homer in the second inning, then two more on Paul Goldschmidt's double in the fifth. He began cruising in the sixth, and on his final pitch of the afternoon, he blew away Jason Kubel with an 89-mph eye-high fastball in the seventh.
In the eighth, Bobby Parnell fired gas. In the ninth, Frank Francisco played with fire. But the result, for the first time in six starts for Santana, was a victory.
"We won, and that's the most important thing," Santana said. "In the situation that we were, losing four games, I wanted to help and somehow stop it."
It is not exactly as if the Mets were worried about Santana, considering they came into the game with a 3-2 record in games he has pitched. In truth, they were thrilled; the left-hander's 2.25 ERA had allowed him to keep the Mets close even when they were not scoring.
Because they weren't scoring. At all. The Mets came into the day averaging 2.4 runs in games that Santana started, the third-worst mark in the Major Leagues. Until last Sunday's game, they had not provided a single one of those runs while Santana was still pitching and could stand to benefit.
Offense came a bit more liberally Saturday, with all four Mets runs coming in the fourth. And still, it was harrowing for Santana until the end, when Francisco walked pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay and allowed pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist to reach second base with one out. So it was with a keen eye that Santana sat in the dugout, watching Francisco strike out Justin Upton to preserve the victory.
Said Francisco: "We did what we were supposed to do: stop their offense right there and win the ballgame."
The Mets were mostly impressed with Santana's ability to quell the D-backs despite a lack of swing-and-miss punch. Struggling with his changeup command early in the game, Santana relied mostly on his slider, before rediscovering his fastball and change later in the afternoon.
The results were evident. After making several loud outs in the early innings, the D-backs began enjoying less hard contact as the game wore on. In the sixth and seventh, Arizona was unable to do much of anything against Santana.
"He was getting ahead and throwing a lot of strikes," Goldschmidt said. "When a guy's doing that, you're battling. We weren't able to do enough against him."
The effort raised Santana's record to 1-2 and his ERA to 2.61, numbers that matter most to scoreboard operators. The Mets were more concerned that they are now 4-2 in games that Santana has started.
"I wouldn't say he had his most outstanding stuff," Nickeas said. "But he battles as good as anybody."