08/12/10 5:13 PM ET
Dominant Johan strikes out 10 in four-hitter
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"He said, 'Don't come out there today, leave me alone,'" Manuel recalled, referring to the pitcher's mound. "I said, 'I sure would love to.'"
Santana made good on that vow and more, firing a four-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory over the Rockies, delivering one of his most sparkling performances of the season.
"I told Jerry I was ready," Santana said. "That was my mindset."
Striking out the side in the first inning and 10 batters in total, Santana flashed what several Mets called his best changeup of the season -- a tumbling low-70s pitch that consistently ducked underneath the bats of the Rockies. He allowed just one runner to reach scoring position all afternoon, in the second, extending his scoreless-innings streak to 16 1/3.
"Oh my God, his changeup was unbelievable today," said right fielder Angel Pagan, who drove in the afternoon's first run with a first-inning single. "He made our job a lot easier. It was fun to watch him pitch."
Though Santana was at 110 pitches after eight innings, his pregame conversation with Manuel left little doubt as to whether or not he would come back out for the ninth.
Five pitches later -- a lineout, a single and a double play -- Santana put the finishing touches on his 11th career complete game and second of the season.
"Every game for us is very important," Santana said. "Every time we go out there, we go out there with the mentality of winning."
The Mets, though, have seen so many similar starts go to waste due to offensive struggles and bullpen meltdowns, or, as in Wednesday's game, both. But not Thursday, when they scored twice early against Rockies starter Jason Hammel, then tacked on two late runs on Jose Reyes' single and Fernando Martinez's sacrifice fly.
"Anytime you pitch against Johan, it's going to be a small margin for error," Hammel said. "Spotting [them] two runs early makes it tough."
Carlos Beltran, who entered the game mired in a 1-for-20 funk, finished 3-for-3 with a sacrifice fly of his own off Hammel in the first.
"I still feel like I'm battling at the plate," Beltran said. "I don't really feel comfortable. I still feel like I'm fighting every at-bat. Today, the only difference was I was able to get results."
So too were the Mets, who might have swept the three-game series if not for a bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning Wednesday. As it is, the Mets have not won back-to-back games since June 22-23. They remain far from striking distance in the National League East and Wild Card standings.
But with three victories in their past five games, they believe they are trending upward.
"Most important, it felt good being able to win the series," Beltran said.
As the later innings played out at Citi Field, closer Francisco Rodriguez was moved to a Queens County courtroom following the alleged assault of his father-in-law late Wednesday night at Citi Field. Though his teammates insisted that Thursday's game was no different than any other, an unusual vibe swept over the home clubhouse as they rallied around their absent teammate.
"These are men, and they have a job to do," Manuel said. "When you cross those lines, regardless of what you've done before or after that, that's what matters. Every now and then, something thrown at your team kind of throws you for a loop. Sometimes I don't think it's all bad. It kind of shows the character of your players."
David Wright believes his teammates can keep their focus on the field.
"As far as I'm concerned, a win is a win," said Wright, who received a scheduled day off from his third-base duties. "What happens away from the field, that's a completely different matter. Once you walk through this clubhouse, you should be able to forget about what's going on, put that aside and just really focus on the task at hand."
Now, the Mets have a new task, welcoming the Phillies -- yet another team ahead of them in the standings -- for a three-game set this weekend at Citi Field. If the Mets can continue to rally without their closer, they may still have a shot at a playoff spot.
They're not giving up yet.
"The negativity, we leave outside the clubhouse," Pagan said. "We were focused today on winning a ballgame."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.