When Jerry Manuel came out to the mound in the eighth to remove Johan Santana, the Mets ace yelled at his manager, "I'm a man." Problem is, when Santana goes to the mound, the Mets expect more than a man - they expect a superman.
But Santana has been increasingly mortal his last few starts, and tonight he gave up four homers. And this was at Citi Field - imagine what will happen if Santana pitches like the on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
But when Santana is on the mound, the Mets always seem to have a chance to win, even when he is not at his best. And tonight, when the Mets started having their usual mishaps on the basepaths, it was Santana the hitter who bailed them out.
In the fifth inning, Gary Sheffield was thrown out easily at second trying to stretch a single into a double. The next inning, with the Phillies now winning, 4-3, Fernando Tatis was out at the plate by a mile. Even though replays showed he was safe because the catcher did not have control of the ball, it was still dubious strategy. Had Tatis stayed put, there still would have been a man on third with only one out. Instead, there was only Ryan Church at first on the fielder's choice.
Two innings in a row, Jerry Manuel's team gambled and lost on the basepaths.
But this time, it did not cost them the game, thanks to Santana the hitter. After Omir Santos singled, moving Church to second, Santana came up to bunt and ended up swinging away butcher boy style and doubling, scoring Church. Even though the ball was hit toward the right field corner, Razor Shines actually held Santos at third. It was refreshing to see the Mets not run themselves out of a rally for a change. Santos went on to score when Alex Cora singled him home.
When Cora advanced to second on the throw, the Mets had runners on second and third with two outs and Carlos Beltran up. Beltran was walked intentionally to bring up the cleanup hitter. Sheffield did have a hot streak in May, but coming into this game he was 1 for 16, 3 for 24 and had one RBI since May 27. He should not be hitting cleanup.
Sheffield struck out to end the inning.
Santana last game up four homers in a game on July 23, 2007 at Toronto. Two of those homers were hit by Frank Thomas, who is now out of baseball. The Twins' second baseman in that game, Luis Castillo, made an error. Unlike tonight, Santana lost that game.
In Santana's remaining 12 starts in 2007, he allowed fewer than two runs only twice. In four games, he allowed four runs. After having an ERA of 2.75 before the All-Star break, Santana's ERA after the break was 4.04.
After tonight's game, Santana has now given up at least three runs in five straight games (in one game, one of the runs was unearned). So it could be time to worry about Santana.
Then again, his subpar second half in 2007 led some to wonder if the Mets were getting a pitcher starting to decline when they signed him for 2008.
Even after tonight, Santana's ERA is 2.39, so he is still having a great year overall.
But Santana is no higher than second on the list of sports figures who have yelled "I'm a man."