Smooth, supported Santana earns a win

Smooth, supported Santana gets win

NEW YORK -- His mechanics adjusted and his losing streak put to rest, Johan Santana appeared a tad taller as he went about his business on Wednesday night. It wasn't merely perception but rather a change of delivery that added to his height on the mound and to his image in the Mets' clubhouse as well.

And, as we all know, size counts.

By evening's end, the Mets had won, 5-0, and Santana's stature had increased to something comparable with what it had been before the unbecoming and irritating winless streak that has marred his first Mets season.

"No matter who you are and what you've done," Pedro Martinez said, perhaps autobiographically, "you feel better when you win."

Though he was no match for the heavy rain that restricted his workday, Santana overmatched the Giants and contributed five of the nine zeroes that Mets pitchers would produce in the team's second straight shutout. Moreover, he emerged from the victory with an identity missing from his 2008 resume since June 1 -- winning pitcher.

The Mets had lost six times in the six starts Santana had made since that date. He had lost four times. Then the shortest workday of his season ended a too-long stretch of exasperation.

"Any time you win, it's good, especially after what we've been through," Santana said through a smile that appeared permanent.

His victory, interrupted for 42 minutes by a downpour, created the Mets' second five-game winning streak of the season, put their record three games over .500 for the first time since May 18 and allowed them to remain tied with the Marlins for second place in the National League East, 1 1/2 games behind the Phillies.

And it clears the way, manager Jerry Manuel said, for more of the same.

"Now I think you'll see the wins start to mount up," Manuel said. "He had to get past this."

The Mets had won nine of Santana's first 12 starts. Even if he wasn't dominating, he was successful. Then six games of little luck, less support and zero success.

"I see it in the clubhouse, in my teammates' faces when I don't win," Santana said.

Those faces expressed a sense of satisfaction and reassurance on Wednesday night.

"We all feel better because we know how much it was bothering him," Ramon Castro said.

It was the home run Castro hit in the fourth inning against the losing pitcher, left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, that provided three runs, more than the Mets had scored in all but one of the six starts that separated Santana's seventh and eighth victories.

And it was a change of mechanics, suggested by new pitching coach Dan Warthen, that helped Santana (8-7) hold an opponent scoreless for the second time this season. Warthen sensed that Santana was rushing through his delivery, moving forward too quickly. He urged the two-time Cy Young Award winner to "pitch taller" -- i.e., stay upright longer.

Still measuring six feet tall, Santana allowed three hits and three walks. He threw 78 pitches before the rain delay, and Manuel's decision, ended his night. The lighter-than-usual workload may allow Manuel to use Santana in relief on Sunday, the last day before the All-Star break, just as Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra used Tom Seaver before the break.

Warthen's "don't rush" advice contradicted the urging Santana received from umpire Gerry Davis who, aware of the probability of rain, pushed both teams to "pick it up" to assure that 4 1/2 innings would be completed and the game would become official. Nobody wanted a doubleheader on Thursday.

The rain was at full force for the last two batters in the top of the fifth.

Castro had had the good sense to hit his home run in the fourth, when the rain -- and not the Giants -- was a threat. The home run, his third, was the Mets' second three-run homer in two games but only their eighth this season. They hit 23 last season and 21 in 2006.

Castro had two of the nine hits the Mets accumulated against Sanchez (8-5) and his relievers. Argenis Reyes had two and Carlos Delgado had three. Delgado, on a double, and Fernando Tatis, on a walk, reached base with two outs before Castro's home run.

The final runs came in the eighth inning, each driven in by a Reyes -- Argenis and Jose.

By then, Aaron Heilman (two innings) and Duaner Sanchez (one) had made the Mets' second straight shutout and fourth overall more likely. Joe Smith pitched the ninth and made it a fact. The Mets hadn't pitched shutouts in successive games since September 2006.

"Winning is the most important part," Santana said. "But the shutouts are good, too. You've got a good chance when you pitch them."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.