The worst thing about coming back from vacation this summer was to see what happened to the Mets. I went away around the All-Star break, when the Mets were comfortably sitting on a 46-40 record. Now I come back and they are 56-63, meaning they have lost 23 of 33. Obviously there is more than something rotten in the state of Mets Nation now; but for a time, however brief, there were glorious stories this season, and Johan Santana’s was the best of them all. Besides coming back successfully from surgery, he pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history. Could you blame Mets fans for the visions of sugar plums and the playoffs dancing in their heads?
Now that no-hitter looms as the best of times and worst of times in 2012. Santana threw 134 pitches to accomplish the task (a career high), and clearly while that June 1 victory was the apex of his comeback, it also was the beginning of a downward spiral for the pitcher, and then ultimately the team. Santana (6-9) now looks like he’s throwing batting practice, and to say he is ineffective is putting it kindly to say the least. Whatever has happened to him has been distressing to the team and its fans.
Yesterday before the game I heard rumbling on the sports talk shows about “shutting down” Santana for a few weeks or even the rest of the season. The fans calling in seemed to be part of a chorus that is singing, “Save his career” and, at 33, one would suspect that has to be a concern for manager Terry Collins and the Mets management. It should also be of great concern to Santana, an aging player who still should have a number of years left in him.
So we go back to June 1. Terry Collins was hit with the questions about letting Santana pitch way too many pitches. It was clear at the time that no one, not even Collins, was going to stand in the way of destiny. Santana wanted it more than anyone, and you get the feeling that even wild horses wouldn’t have been able to take him off the mound that night. Since then though Santana has not been the same pitcher, and the no-hitter is his last win to date.
To protect Santana, the Mets recently began using a six-man rotation, with Jeremy Hefner being thrown into the mix, but one wonders if that was just a way of easing Santana out. He doesn’t look right out there, and whether it is physical, mental, or a combination of both, Santana looks like he is done. Maybe he needs a few weeks off, or maybe he needs to wait until next year.
It is obvious to even the most orange and blue blooded (among whom I count myself) that this season is over. It is always difficult for Mets fans, especially as the hated Yankees continue their express ride to another post season run, but we have to face facts. All King Wilpon’s horses and all his men can’t put the team back together again this year. It may even be a harder truth that the likelihood of Wilpon doing anything substantial for next year is not promising, so it may be a while before the Mets play meaningful baseball games in October.
So, with nothing riding on this season, the team should approach Santana and ask him to go quietly into that good night. It is the best thing for him and for the team in the long run. Like Bogie and Bergman will always have Paris in the film Casablanca, Mets fans will always have June 1, 2012. We will have that and not much else to get us through the dark winter, and then there will be a hope of another spring for Mets fans. As has always been the case for us, it’s time to accept our old “Wait until next year” and move on.
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