Minaya watches Johan come up money

Minaya watches Mets' ace deliver

NEW YORK -- Perhaps both prouder and more fearful than anyone at Shea Stadium, Mets general manager Omar Minaya could hardly watch Saturday's ninth inning unfold. Even though his team was in no imminent danger and even though the Marlins needed a home run simply to tie the game, Minaya clung to a certain desperation as he watched Johan Santana throw the final pitches of his finest day as a Met.

"I'm looking up in the sky saying, 'I need you now, Lord,'" Minaya said.

Minaya's silent cry worked, and so did his investment. More than nine months after trading for Santana, in a deal that twice seemed as if it would not happen, Minaya's prized offseason acquisition almost single-handedly saved the Mets' season. And in the waning moments following Saturday's three-hit 2-0 shutout win, Minaya seemed vindicated for all the tribulations he incurred this past offseason.

"Without Johan, I don't think we'd be where we are today," Minaya said. "I don't think we would be here."

Yet Santana, for all his ability and his successful history, surprised even Minaya with what he was able to accomplish on Saturday. In the heat of a pennant race, needing a win simply to keep the Mets' playoff hopes alive, Santana demanded the ball from manager Jerry Manuel on three days' rest.

Four days after throwing a career-high 125 pitches, Santana fired 117 more against the Marlins, enjoying a success unlike any he had experienced before as a professional. With the Mets hoping for six or seven innings from their ace, Santana provided nine. With the Mets aching for any sort of ugly win, Santana spun as beautiful a game as he could have hoped to achieve.

"Obviously, for the hype and stuff that he came with, and the price and all that type of stuff, to come in and demand and say, 'This is why you got me,'" Manuel said. "He went out and did it. He went out and backed it up."

The price was $137.5 million over six years, on a contract inked in February -- three days after the Mets tentatively completed a trade for Santana. For much of this past offseason, Minaya's team didn't even appear to be a player for Santana, considering his inability to provide the same quality of prospects that the Yankees and Red Sox had to trade.

But those teams, silently bickering with each other as much as they haggled with the Twins, dropped out of the Santana sweepstakes one by one. And the Twins, desperate to unload Santana before he hit free agency the following autumn, decided to deal him to the Mets for four mid-level prospects.

"Without Johan, I don't think we'd be where we are today. I don't think we would be here."
-- Mets GM Omar Minaya, on Johan Santana

The deal, however, was contingent upon the Mets inking Santana to a new contract, with a deadline set for 5 p.m. ET on Feb. 1. Quitting time came and went, before the Mets first announced that they had gained an extension on the deadline, and then announced that they had signed a new ace for their pitching staff.

"You come to New York, where you know you're going to have a chance to win," Santana said during his introductory press conference. "And I really like that idea."

So did Minaya. Only he couldn't imagine Santana would win like this.

"You definitely envisioned a day like today when you make a deal, when you sign for a player like that," Minaya said. "But I'll be honest with you, I never envisioned this day with three days' rest. I never envisioned this day with the pressure that the whole event has. I envisioned him pitching big games with four days' rest, but I never envisioned him pitching big games with three days' rest -- the way he pitched."

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