The Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana was largely symbolic.
Sure, there was that whole acquiring arguably the best pitcher in baseball thing - but in looking at how the Santana trade was viewed by Mets fans and pressfolk - it was a symbolic trade.
Johan going to the Mets, rather than the Red Sox or Yankees? Symbolic - there's a new sheriff in town.
Omar Minaya nabbing Johan with dogged persistence, and doing so without giving up Fernando Martinez or Mike Pelfrey? Symbolic - in him we had lost confidence after fumbling away Brian Bannister and an entire relief corps; now, it was In Omar We Trust all over again.
The Mets managing to get a negotiating window with Santana, and then signing him to that big deal? Symbolic - big-money signings since the Minaya regime came into power notwithstanding, there were still some who complained that the Wilpons were not willing to open up their checkbook, and there they were inking an elite pitcher to a big money, long term deal.
So, why, then, is Johan still treated like a symbol?
Sure, I know they won (handily), and everything, making them 15-4 in their last 19 and giving them some momentum heading into the Dolphin Tank, but there was something not to like about Johan today.
He pitched great, having exceptional pitch economy while limiting hits for the first chunk of the ballgame. It looked, for a while, like he would have more hits than he gave up.
But then Santana started to run out of gas in the seventh - the Mets were up by plenty, and he served up a near homer to Ryan Ludwick before serving up an actual homer to Phat Albert. It was fine, he set the Cardinals down in the eighth. His day should have been over.
What is that, you say? Contrarianism? How dare you?
Johan Santana went out and pitched the ninth inning. He finished it, gave up some hits in that inning, and gathered his final out on the 118th pitch of the day. He had retired 27 batters in one game, the highest total posted since Oliver Perez's immortal second-half of a doubleheader showing against Atlanta in September 2006. (Dave Williams had started the first game. He was better than Ollie then.)
But he threw too many pitches doing it. It's one thing to ask someone to throw that many pitches in a playoff game, or even in a close game, where the gassed starter is a much better option than the reliever likely to get the call.
It's quite another when the Mets have six and a half more years of Santana, at a steep price, and are up by seven runs on the Cardinals in bad weather. Willie Collazo, no matter how much he is Willie Collazo, easily could have pitched the ninth en route to a painless victory.
This victory won't be painless, though. Johan's more likely to be injured now than he was before this start, and it doesn't help that his velocity dropped after a non-taxing season in Minnesota last year. Sure, his number of pitches per start is roughly the same as it has been for the last few years, but that, according to most research done on the topic, isn't the health risk.
Johan has thrown or exceeded 110 pitches in a start eight times this season.
In his previous full seasons as a starter, he has done the same this many times:
We're not even into August, and Santana has extended himself more in starts than ever before. Today, the reason for doing this was wholly symbolic. The game was won, and the taxed bullpen had relief, even if it happened to come in the form of Willie Collazo (though the bullpen would have preferred a suppository.)
Baseball Prospectus found Johan Santana to be the 26th most-abused starter in baseball, measured by total Pitcher Abuse Points. Imagine what happens in the wake of this effort.
The Mets aren't stupid - Santana, in fact, is the only Met pitcher in the top 30, while noted crusty ol' baseball men like Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel each have two pitchers in the top 15 (is it any wonder Carlos Zambrano always seems to have a DL stint and Brett Myers is out of gas? They're both up there. Good news, too - Cole Hamels is #7... just wait until his arm falls off.)
So why do they kowtow to goofy WFAN hosts/callers, and this woman (left) (writing here), and other idiots from the peanut gallery?
She wrote a book about Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, which apparently makes her qualified to determine the physiology of pitching.
I wrote a book about the Prague Spring, and yet I don't claim to know anything about women's tennis.
Ed.: Yes, he does. And Kundera's lawyers, please look away.
The Mets lost on Tuesday not because of Johan Santana, but because of an inept cast of characters who toil in the Shea bullpen. That is obvious. The fact that Santana did not pitch the ninth has nothing to do with Sanchez, Feliciano, Smith & Co.'s inability to retire anyone.
The argument for Johan to finish that game could have been made thusly: he's the team's best pitcher - and his inning, regardless of how many pitches he's thrown, would be better than the bullpen's; we want to avoid using Wagner; Feliciano's been struggling lately; something like that.
Nowhere in arguing for Santana to pitch that ninth would one bring up the following things:
1) He's getting paid $137.5 million.
2) He has a seven-year contract.
3) He's thrown 105 pitches.
And yet, those were the hindsight crew's points about why he should have pitched the ninth! He's getting paid all of this money - he should be out there pitching every day! He's got seven years of salary coming to him - he should earn his damn keep! He's thrown 105 pitches - come on! Juan Marichal threw 220-something to beat Warren Spahn! Or was that Pedro Astacio...?
The money spent on Santana is an investment, and the seven years granted in his deal are a reflection on the Mets' hope that he will keep up his current pace. Johan should not be treated like a rag doll just because of his contract.
And all of this thinking about Tuesday and its wake brings me to today, when Johan Santana willingly engaged in that which shall be called "arm harm."
Jerry's Kids gave into all of this hot air spewed from the media this week, and Johan first among them. Manuel and Warthen asked him if he was okay to throw all of those pitches, and he said yes. And while this blogger does not doubt that Santana felt confident in the instant of throwing those pitches (after all, he uses J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment), it is certain that the Mets just absorbed plenty of risk for zero reward.
What does the team gain from the CG next to Santana's name on the box score? Momentum? Ha!
Earl Weaver said, "Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." It's John Maine, facing Ricky Nolasco, by the way.
Does one really believe that had Santana left after eight innings, and Willie Collazo done all he could have not to surrender seven runs, that the Mets would have a better chance of winning on Monday in Florida?
Can one honestly think that John Maine is going to pitch especially well tomorrow, now that Johan's gone deep into the game?
In fact, Maine's last especially good start really generated plenty of momentum for the next day's pitcher. Look at that line: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, no runs, 14 strikeouts.
If momentum exists, think about the kind of show that the next day's starting pitcher put on.
(I'm quite sorry I had to bring this up, by the way. Devastated, in fact. I know that I'm a Mets fan first, and a stathead second, but the overwhelming contention that some intangible effect of Santana's abuse would help this team has driven me to crazy things.)
Simply put, Johan Santana did The Job Of An Ace today, but there was no need to extend him through the ninth, especially after all of the times he's been extended earlier this year. He does not have a rubber arm, and whatever rubbery things exist in his arm will wear down on the Mets' dime if the team continues to batter him like they have so far.
When the Mets acquired Johan, it meant a lot of different things. It helped turn the tide for this team after an embarrassing collapse in 2007.
But he's here now. When all's said and done, he will most likely have made more starts as a Met than as a Twin, where he fashioned two Cy Young Awards and collected the bulk of his now 101 career victories.
Mets fans are smart enough to know that Johan Santana is right now way more than a symbol, way more than a device. He's ours, for the long haul. Let's treat him like it.
LINK: This article on Pitcher Abuse Points might be useful to you.