Solid Santana takes tough-luck loss

Solid Santana takes tough-luck loss

NEW YORK -- The blister on his toe is long ago healed. The blister on his finger no longer is an issue. The soreness in his back is no longer, period. And the knee that wasn't a problem still isn't. From all indications -- spoken and demonstrated -- Johan Santana is physically well. So now the Mets and their allies, advocates and devotees can stand at ease and cease and desist with the hyperventilating. No aches, no pains. No pulls, no strains.

Santana himself characterized the state of the starter as fine. After a pretty good performance against the Rays on Saturday, he said he was "right back to where I was" before this recent slump that needlessly tripped alarms from Flushing to Philly. And he seemed to be. Santana's performance was quite comparable to some of his starts early this season when he was routinely effective -- and occasionally unsuccessful.

Santana had insisted the physical maladies that came to light last Sunday after he had been battered by the Yankees hadn't been factors in what he called "the worst performance of my career." And they clearly were not against the Rays either. Instead, the factors were these: a home run by Carlos Pena and the renewed inability of the Mets to provide adequate support for their primary pitcher. And the result was a water-logged 3-1 Interleague loss that eliminated some misgivings and underscored others.

The day that brought the first rain delay in the history of Citi Field also brought the Mets their sixth defeat in their most recent 19 games at home and another loss for Santana. He has lost three of his past four starts, and the team has lost 11 of its 17 games this month. Santana hasn't been the stopper this month, but merely a starter, one with everyman frailties and a pronounced distaste for excuses.

"I didn't think it would last for a long time," manager Jerry Manuel said. "You just don't lose it and not be able to get it back."

The Mets hadn't seemed nearly so concerned as people around the team, media included.

Santana was battered by the Yankees on Sunday -- nine runs in three-plus innings -- because he didn't command his pitches and threw with uncharacteristically pedestrian velocity. That performance put his ERA for a six-start sequence at 6.50 and prompted speculation about injuries or conditions or fatigue. It was unfounded speculation, Santana said repeatedly. And he supported those denials by throwing 98 pitches before the 73-minute rain delay Saturday, most of them to spots he had chosen and many with greater velocity -- 91, 92 mph -- than he had demonstrated at Yankee Stadium.

That those pitches were components of a loss was as much the responsibility of the Mets' undermanned offense, the offerings of winning pitcher James Shields and the work of the Rays' hitters.

"A lot of people were panicking," Santana said. "But that had nothing to do with what I do. I know what I have to do. ... I know myself better."

Santana (two runs), Bobby Parnell, Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green (one) surrendered as many runs Saturday as the Rays had scored in each of their three previous games, all losses. The difference was that Shields (6-5), Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell (fourth save) allowed the Mets three doubles, a single and little more. Before Carlos Beltran singled with two outs in the ninth, the Mets had been hitless in 19 successive at-bats. When David Wright struck out for the 27th out, the Mets had batted .050 for the better part of seven innings.

Santana (8-5) was removed after the rain delay in the eighth inning. He had pitched 7 1/3 innings, his high this season, allowed three hits and three walks and struck out three against the most productive offense in the American League. He surrendered one run on successive doubles by Jason Bartlett and Gabe Kapler in the fifth and the other on Pena's AL-leading 22nd home run in the seventh. Ben Zobrist homered against Green in the ninth. The Mets had led 1-0 after two innings, having scored on doubles by Ryan Church and Omir Santos in the second.

Santana hadn't adjusted his grips on his pitches, as pitching coach Dan Warthen had said might be necessary; he had adjusted his release point to where it was more in front of his body. It was fine-tuning, Santana acknowledged. Better command and greater velocity allowed him to be more aggressive -- i.e., attack hitters once he was ahead in the count. He didn't do that against the Yankees.

"That's all it was," Santana said.

He had reviewed videos and detected the change that had contributed to an unbecoming six-game increase in his ERA, from 0.78 on May 11 to 3.29 after the game against the Yankees. His ERA now is 3.22. And though he didn't win Saturday, the alarms seemingly have been shut off.

"I wasn't the one who thought it was the end of the world," the veteran southpaw said. "I just had a bad game."

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