In the end, it was worth the wait. Proving his flair for the dramatic yet again, Santos drilled a Jonathan Papelbon first-pitch fastball over the Green Monster in the ninth inning on Saturday, sending the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
It was hardly the victory the Mets expected. But facing one of the league's best teams and reeling from the effects of a seemingly endless string of injuries, it was a victory that the Mets were thrilled to accept.
"That's a huge win for us," manager Jerry Manuel said. "That's huge in the shape that we're in, especially."
The Mets are barely recognizable these days, with Santos, Jeremy Reed and Ramon Martinez becoming fixtures in the starting lineup. But on this night, perhaps that was a blessing. Knowing that Papelbon probably hadn't been scouting him too closely, Santos geared up for a first-pitch fastball -- and got one.
"I know he's one of the best closers in the game," Santos said, "and I know he doesn't know me very well. I knew he was going to throw me a fastball to get strike one, and I just jumped on it."
Sailing over the red line drawn across the top of the Monster, the ball hit a section of wall and bounced back onto the field -- clearly a home run. But after umpires mistakenly ruled it a double, they had to consult a video replay in order to reverse the call.
A brief -- or interminable, if you ask Santos -- replay revealed what Papelbon, Manuel and Santos were all thinking: homer.
"I thought it was a home run -- I did," Papelbon said. "I saw it go over the line, and I thought I was going to get away with one for a little bit there."
"A lot of things were going through my mind," Santos said. "I knew I hit it well. If it was going to be the big hit of the game? I couldn't even express how I was feeling at second base, waiting for the call."
The Mets rushed onto the field, celebrating as though they had already won the game. In the visiting clubhouse, starter Mike Pelfrey let out a yelp that surprised team personnel sitting across the room -- they were watching a different broadcast, complete with a short delay.
But this game was far from over. The Mets were without their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, who fell victim to a wave of back spasms about an hour before the game. And his replacement, J.J. Putz, hardly inspired confidence, walking the first man he faced in the ninth.
That's when something remarkable happened. The Mets, so flimsy on defense with only two men playing in their Opening Day positions, made a series of plays to save the save for Putz. Still with none out, David Wright made a diving stop of Jason Bay's ground ball, throwing wildly to second base but recording the out when Luis Castillo made a fine scoop of the ball. With one out, backup right fielder Angel Pagan made a difficult catch on a line drive right at him. And with two outs, third-string shortstop Martinez -- perhaps the most maligned Met of all -- made a diving stop of Mike Lowell's grounder to end the game.
After Martinez made two errors in Friday night's game, Manuel stated publicly that he was sticking with the shortstop only because he had "no options." How quickly things change.
"They ran out as if the game was over when the guy said home run," Manuel said. "And then they go out and play that type of defense in the last inning, which we haven't played all year -- Castillo, David, Ramon making tremendous plays with stress and pressure."
Until that point, all the action had taken place in the first inning. The Red Sox scored twice on Pelfrey -- who pitched admirably after an outing in which he balked three times -- and the Mets scored off Josh Beckett on Gary Sheffield's RBI single.
From that point forward, Beckett and Pelfrey thrived. But Papelbon, who hadn't blown a save this season, walked Sheffield to open the ninth. Santos did the rest.
Santos has been making the most of this opportunity since starting catcher Brian Schneider went on the disabled list in April with a strained back. Indeed, big hits have come regularly for Santos, who has driven in as many runs this month -- 11 -- as Schneider did during any month last year.
Forcing a tough decision upon Manuel, Santos may have played his way into a role with the team even after Schneider returns from the DL -- possibly as soon as next week. But those are discussions for another day.
On this day, the Mets were content to discuss their second straight victory in the face of adversity.
"It looks like we're going to be OK," Manuel said. "We're a little beat up, but it looks like we're going to be OK."