Johan lends a hand: Rehabbing Mets lefty boosts Brooklyn’s playoff hopes

August 7, 2012 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Johan Santana showed up on Coney Island nearly three hours before his scheduled rehab start with the Class A short-season Cyclones on Sunday afternoon.

Apparently, that wasn’t nearly early enough for the two-time Cy Young winner to avoid running into the Brooklyn faithful, who packed MCU Park to the tune of 6,242 on what turned out to be a rain-shortened 8-0 victory over visiting Auburn for the re-energized Baby Bums.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Santana said of the legion of fans and well-wishers who showed up outside the ballpark along Surf Avenue for a glimpse of the 33-year-old Venezuelan left-hander. “You sign some autographs and make some people happy. That’s baseball. it’s good, the atmosphere [here] and everybody offered a lot of support.”

Recovering from a right-ankle injury that has kept him on the disabled list since July 21, Santana returned the warm sentiments by helping to keep Brooklyn in the thick of the McNamara Division race while bolstering their bid for the New York-Penn League’s lone wild-card spot.

Santana, who hadn’t been on a mound since being shut down, tossed three innings of one-hit ball with a walk and three strikeouts before Julian Hilario (1-3) followed suit with five scoreless frames as Brooklyn beat the rain and the Doubledays en route to the third victory during their current four-game winning streak.

“I was able to finally get on the mound and face some hitters,” said a relieved Santana following his relatively easy 37-pitch effort. “I feel great. I was able to throw some fastballs and some changeups and some sliders in there. [My ankle felt] much better. My whole right side feels good. I had a chance to recover my whole body. I was able to rest, to work out and feel much better. [The rest] was something that I really needed.”

Ironically, it was another 8-0 victory that permanently etched Santana’s name into Mets lore over two months ago, when he ended the franchise’s mind-numbing 50-year drought by tossing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on June 1. Santana, whose four-year tenure with the Mets has been plagued by injury woes since he was traded to New York from Minnesota in 2008, insisted that the 134 pitches he fired with his surgically repaired shoulder against the Cardinals on that historic night had nothing to do with his current DL stint.

“I knew [Mets manager Terry Collins] was going to be criticized [for letting me throw all those pitches],” Santana intimated. “What happened to me had nothing to do with the no-hitter. It happened [June 25] at Chicago. They stepped on [my ankle]. I didn’t feel anything while I was pitching. But I could see on the replays that I wasn’t finishing [my pitches]. They decided to shut me down [following a 7-6 loss to the Dodgers at Citi Field on July 20] so I could get back my mechanics. We’re just going to start a new chapter this week and see where we go from there.”

Santana was scheduled to rejoin the Mets on Tuesday night in Flushing as they prepared to open a three-game series with the Florida Marlins.

Though he enjoyed his time in Brooklyn, “chatting, joking around and having some fun”, with the Cyclones players and fans, Santana is eager to contribute to the Mets’ stretch run.

“I’m dying to get back, be part of the team and help out as much as I can,” he noted before departing MCU Park and running into yet more autograph seekers.

Well over 6,000 fans showed up at MCU Park on a rainy Sunday evening to catch Mets left-hander Johan Santana, the only pitcher in franchise history to toss a no-hitter. Eagle photo by Bill Kotsatos

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This, That and the Other Thing: The Cyclones remained hot following Santana’s departure, edging Auburn 3-1 on Monday to complete a three-game sweep in which they outscored the Doubledays, 15-2.  Brooklyn has outscored the opposition, 18-2, during its four-game run, improving to 30-18 overall. The Baby Bums lead the NY-Penn wild card by five games over State College but remain two games behind first-place Hudson Valley in the McNamara race. … By going 5-1 on their recently completed homestand, the Cyclones now boast a 14-11 record at MCU Park. … Staff ace RHP Rainy Lara (6-1) won his second straight start Monday, allowing a run on five hits with no walks and three strikeouts over six innings. Lara is tied with Tri-City’s Aaron West for the league lead in victories with six. … C Kevin Plawecki and OF Stefan Sabol launched back-to-back homers in Monday’s win. Plawecki, the Mets’ supplemental first-round pick in the June draft, is on a tear of late, hitting .314 (11-for-35) with a homer and eight RBIs over his last 10 games. Plawecki, one of the top catchers in the nation at Purdue University this past season, didn’t have the pleasure of backstopping Santana’s rehab start. That honor went to C Nelfi Zapata. “We talked before the game and he was really good with the target,” Santana said of his catcher for a day. The 22-year-old Zapata, who has struggled mightily at the plate this season, also contributed with his bat Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs to back Santana. … Brooklyn, which will play nine of its next 12 games on the road, was scheduled to open a three-game series at Lowell on Tuesday night. The Cyclones have the second-best road record on the 14-team circuit at 16-7.

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