Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don't mess with the Johan

Jerry Manuel made Joe Benigno a happy man Tuesday night.

Benigno, who often rails about how pitchers aren't allowed to finish games, and who has often wondered why Johan Santana has been removed from games in the latter innings, must have been thrilled when Manuel came out to the mound in the top of the ninth after Jason Bay dropped an easy fly ball to put runners on first and second with one out, only to return to the dugout, leaving Santana in to shut the Reds down.

It took Santana just two pitches to clean up the mess, and he ended up with the complete-game shutout, a three-hit gem that also saw him hit a solo homer on a remarkable 12-pitch at-bat in the third inning with two outs.

That Santana battled Matt Maloney that hard, that early in the game tells you all you need to know about the ultra-competitive Santana, who has pitched brilliantly in his most recent starts and has Mets fans believing he has worked out his issues and is ready to dominate in the second half, which he has done throughout his career.

Maybe he'll hit some more bombs, too. Santana yanked the 12th pitch from Maloney down the right field line and off the foul pole for a 1-0 Mets lead. It stayed that way until the sixth, when resurgent Jason Bay singled in two runs.

You couldn't have blamed Manuel if he went by the book and brought in K-Rod to face the righties coming up in the ninth. But given K-Rod's recent woes (his 12-pitch save on Sunday notwithstanding), and Santana's many no-decisions this season, it was fantastic to see Manuel leave Santana in, to the thunderous applause of the fans.

Of course, Santana delivered.

Jose Reyes returned to the lineup, batting righthanded against the lefty Maloney, and had two hits and a run scored.

Jon Niese looks to win the series on Wednesday, followed by a well-deserved day off before the Braves come to town, led by All-Star OMAR INFANTE!

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