SAN FRANCISCO -- The catch that saved Johan Santana's no-hitter was nice, but Mike Baxter does not want it to define his career. Returning from the disabled list Monday after an eight-week absence, Baxter aims to continue producing as well as he did before displacing his right collarbone during Santana's June 1 no-no.
"I hope he plays as well as he did the first time before he got hurt," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He was absolutely outstanding for us, not only offensively but defensively. He was remarkable coming off the bench and getting a big hit."
It was a long road back for Baxter, who was in such pain in the days following his injury that he spent the first two to three weeks sleeping in a reclining chair. When the Mets were on the road, Baxter had no access to his teammates.
"You're with the team every day, and then you get hurt and now all of the sudden you're out of the mix," said Baxter, who hit .323 overall and .444 as a pinch-hitter prior to his injury. "Obviously it was very difficult to not be around in the clubhouse. Any baseball player you ask will tell you that's one of the best parts of the game. When you miss out on that, it's very frustrating."
It was especially frustrating, as Collins noted, because Baxter "earned his way into the lineup and earned his way into staying in the lineup" before landing on the DL. Winning a roster spot out of Spring Training and quickly establishing himself as one of the game's most productive left-handed bench bats, Baxter had begun receiving more regular playing time in the weeks leading up to his injury.
Now fully healthy following a 13-game rehab assignment, he will return to his familiar bench role at first. But with New York's outfield situation in flux -- Jason Bay is scuffling mightily, Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are in the Minor Leagues and Jordany Valdespin is an unproven product -- the opportunity clearly exists for Baxter to nose his way into additional playing time.
As for the catch? Outside baseball circles, the Queens native's celebrity has not grown much.
"I'm totally under the radar," Baxter said, laughing. "I'm unrecognizable. I'm just another guy in Whitestone and Long Island City. It's good. It's fine that way."