03/31/08 10:23 PM ET
Santana as advertised as Mets roll
Ace solid in debut, while Wright powers big six-run fourth
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
So it was Monday after the first game of the 2008 season and the first in-game episode of Johan Santana, the Mets were complete. Each had been an unqualified success; they won, he won. And both team and pitcher performed well. But the Mets seemingly wanted the debut of their pitcher to be more than it was -- even if he didn't. They characterized it with superlatives and the word "great," though neither seemed appropriate to the dispassionate eye.
Santana had subdued the subdue-able Marlins in the 7-2 victory. He was in control and, as a sequence of four successive strikeouts -- fifth inning to sixth -- suggests, occasionally dominating in his seven-inning workday. He did strike out eight, and a less conservative strike zone by plate umpire Rick Reed might have put that total at 10. But great?
Santana allowed three hits -- one a home run -- two walks and two runs in seven innings. Is that great? What happens when he pitches eight scoreless innings or a two-hit shutout, as he is likely to do? Then what adjectives will apply?
"Okay, okay. But he was really good," Willie Randolph said. "He gave us everything we wanted. In that way, he was great."
In every way, he was what an Opening Day pitcher should be.
"He got us off on the right foot," David Wright said. "He set the bar pretty high."
And he left it there for Pedro Martinez, the Mets' Tuesday-night starter, whose one fleeting assessment of Santana's performance was: "Just what the doctor ordered."
Across the clubhouse, Aaron Heilman was saying, "Confidence breeds confidence," and talking of the positive competition that can develop among the members of the rotation. And Heilman, who knows the meanings of words, used the G-word too.
As pleased as the Mets were by what they had witnessed, it seemed they wanted it to be more than it was. Perhaps because it was Opening Day. Perhaps because it was Santana's debut. It was left to Marlon Anderson to provide some sage, almost Yogi-esque perspective.
"You don't have to be great," Anderson said, "when you're that good."
|"It's nice and good when you get those types of ovations. I'm just going to keep doing my job, keep people happy and clapping."|
|-- Johan Santana|
Santana himself was pleased by the entire event. The home run Josh Willingham hit after a disputed walk in the fourth didn't dampen his day. It was merely a too-high changeup, the slowest of his 100 pitches.
"[I'm] here trying to do my job," Santana said. "But at the same time, trying to please a lot of people. I'm very happy and proud to be on this team."
His parents, wife and two daughters had attended, members of the Venezuelan consulate, too. He was surrounded after he emerged from the clubhouse and hailed by many among the 38,308 who paid to watch.
"I heard that. It's nice to see that," Santana said. "It's nice and good when you get those types of ovations. I'm just going to keep doing my job, keep people happy and clapping."
The crowd included two of Venezuelan's foremost baseball celebrities, Andres Galarraga and Davey Concepcion. Santana was touched by their attendance. "That's legacy," he said.
For weeks, he had made every effort to de-emphasize the significance of his debut and to defuse at least some of the stir it had produced. He almost had vowed to do "nothing crazy" and "nothing special." And he wouldn't try to be a hero, he said.
And, really he was true to his word. Nothing of what he did in his third Opening Day start was crazy; only isolated in-game moments were special. And heroic didn't apply either. Perhaps co-heroic -- the Mets' six-run rally in the fourth inning featured a two-out, three-run double by Wright, the everyday hero.
To be sure, Santana was the primary force in the Mets' 30th Opening Day victory in 47 years -- their .638 winning percentage is the highest in the game -- but he had help. The six-run inning was the most productive Opening Day inning in team history. And somebody had to pitch the last two innings. Randolph had Matt Wise, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman share the assignment. He wanted them all to get past inertia.
Most of the Mets did. Carlos Delgado and Brian Schneider were the only hitless starters, and Schneider made pretty good contact against losing pitcher Mark Hendrickson and two relievers. Angel Pagan drove in the first run with a double, and Ryan Church the second with a hard single to right -- and Hendrickson is quite left-handed. Jose Reyes drove in the third run with the first of his two hits before the first of Wright's two doubles cleared the bases. Five of the Mets' 10 hits were doubles.
"We got just about everyone started the right way," Randolph said. "That's a great way to get going."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.