It's been an odd season for Johan Santana. When he pitches well, his team takes the night off and he winds up as a hard-luck loser. If he pitches poorly, those good starts get ignored and talk starts about whether or not he still has the kind of stuff that made him one of baseball's most dynamic pitchers.
Santana killed both birds on Tuesday night. He pitched a complete game shutout, his first time going the distance since 2008, and hit his first career home run, a bit of self-reliance that assured he wouldn't end up with nothing to show for his night's work. The offense added a couple more runs later in the proceeding, just enough to make it a 3-0 game and give Jerry Manuel the chance to get Francisco Rodriguez a save opportunity in the ninth inning.
He seemed to want to use it too, before Santana said something to him and sent the manager back to the dugout with his tail between his legs. One hopes it was either a reminder that Santana had watched Jerry's Kids blow too many leads this season to allow them to do it again or, fingers deeply crossed here, that Santana lectured his manager for his slavish devotion to the arbitrariness of the save situation and told him to start using a few more criteria to make his decisions in the future.
Even if he didn't fully enlighten his manager, Santana did enough to be worthy of praise on Tuesday night and more than enough to convince you that his June swoon isn't the last word on his career. He threw strikes to 28 of 34 hitters and generated swings and misses on all five of his strikeouts. Santana hasn't been getting a lot of swinging strikes this season but he seems to have solved a pitch tipping problem that could lead to more success in the second half.
It's tempting to say that this is a case of the masses jumping to conclusions about a true star pitcher based on a ridiculously small sample size, but there's more to it than that. His dip in performance coincided with the public revelation of sexual assault claims that were not persued in 2009, raising concern that this would hang over his head all year. He was also coming off elbow surgery, his second, and it was hoped, but not preordained, that things would return to normal in that area as the season progressed.
More success in the second half is no new thing for Santana. He's now 62-19 with a 2.70 ERA in the second half over his career, the kinds of numbers that should make Mets fans perturbed by the recent Mike Pelfrey outings reason to breathe a little easier as they contemplate catching the Braves and staying ahead of the Phillies.
Pitching, hitting, Jerry Manuel-resisting: Whatever you need, Johan Santana is a one-stop shop for the discerning Mets team.