In the course of four hours on the eve of the return of Brian Schneider, Santos started for the 20th time, hit a home run to tie the score, drove a base hit over a drawn-in infield to decide a game and learned -- albeit after most of his teammates already knew -- that Buffalo wasn't included on his travel itinerary.
None was better than the other, he said. "They're all great."
The 28-year-old journeyman turned hero has been a revelation since he powered two long home runs in Spring Training games in Jupiter, Fla., in late March. He became a person of interest to manager Jerry Manuel, then he became a Met when Schneider's back betrayed him, then a surprise, then something of a stealth force. And now, with Schneider about to be activated, he is half of the Mets' revised catching tandem, likely to play more than Castro would have had he not been dealt to the White Sox.
"Everything is happening fast," Santos said. "And everything is happening good. I came here to do my best. ... I wanted to make it difficult for them [to demote me]. If they sent me down, I'd go back [to the Mets' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate] with my head up."
Because of his hitting, Gary Sheffield's basestealing acumen, Mike Pelfrey's pitching and 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, the Mets continued their push through the have-nots of the National League East on Friday night, beating a struggling opponent for their fourth consecutive victory -- three against the last-place Nationals and this one against the fourth-place Fish, who now have lost 26 of their most recent 37 games. The victory was the Mets' ninth in 18 one-run games, their first in four one-run games against the Marlins (22-27), their third overall in seven games against them. It marked the third time the Mets (27-20) have won on the final pitch, the seventh time they've won in the final at-bat.
And about the 10th time they have hailed Santos for his contributions.
Santos' decisive hit came against Brian Sanches, the Marlins' fourth reliever, and followed a leadoff walk to Sheffield, a strikeout by David Wright, Sheffield's steal of second, a throwing error by catcher Ronny Paulino that put Sheffield on third and Sanches (1-1) hitting Fernando Tatis.
As he did last Saturday when he beat Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox with a home run, Santos swung at the first pitch.
"You can tell, he's thinking about what he's doing," Sheffield said. "He had a good idea when he went up there. He's got a lot of poise. This is a big stage, and he's handling it."
Sheffield's second steal of the season and the error were critical, of course, because they forced the Marlins to play their infield in.
"I can steal a base," said Sheffield, who stole nine last season with the Tigers. "I knew the situation. Teams see a good basestealer over there in a tight game and they do things to make it hard for him steal. They probably weren't worrying too much about me."
But they were aware. Sanches threw to first five times while Wright and Tatis batted. Sheffield stole on the first pitch to Tatis. After Tatis was hit, Santos struck. The RBI was his 12th in his past 14 games, his 17th overall. Schneider (three in 21 at-bats) and Castro (13 in 79 at-bats) have one less RBI in 24 fewer at-bats.
Santos' home run against left-handed starting pitcher Sean West was his third. He hit an 0-2 pitch down the left-field line.
The Mets have been particularly productive against left-handed pitching. That hardly was the case against West. Before he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, West had limited the Mets to six baserunners -- one on an error, one on a walk, three on singles and Santos' home run. He struck out two.
Pelfrey pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his nine starts this season, allowing five hits and a walk -- to his final batter -- hitting one batter and striking out six in 7 2/3 innings. A leadoff triple by Chris Coghlan and a line drive sacrifice fly by the following batter, Dan Uggla, produced the Marlins' run in the fourth.
Pelfrey was removed after retiring the first two batters and then allowing two baserunners. Bobby Parnell replaced him and retired Uggla, preserving the tie score and assuring Pelfrey of avoiding another loss to the Marlins. Pelfrey produced an 0-4 record and 7.11 ERA in five starts against the Fish in 2008. The Mets have won six of his past seven starts.
Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz and winning pitcher Pedro Feliciano followed Parnell, with Feliciano (2-1) gaining the victory because Santos, needlessly trying to make the Mets' decision difficult, made the night difficult for the Marlins.