By Jason Keidel
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The Mets’ maddening, 50-year pilgrimage through America’s pastime has been as odd and unpredictable as the sport itself.
There is no more a microcosm of this jagged journey than Johan Santana, who has probably chucked his last pitch as a Met. Facing surgery on the same shoulder that caged him two seasons ago, Santana’s days as a Met are over, if not his entire career. And the timing can’t be lost on New Yorkers. Where else but Queens would such resounding goodwill like Opening Day be met with such bad news?
Injuries aren’t unique to the Mets, but no team has been cursed by karma, rotten luck, or poor management. It raises the question that is almost uniquely and sadly Metropolitan.
Was he worth it?
It’s understood in baseball parlance that struggling teams pay much cash for cachet, more millions and years than the glamor clubs because it takes a little extra to convince the star’s “God” that your city is indeed “His” will. But a team in New York City shouldn’t suffer such identity crises. No doubt their dubious history with pitching precedes them.
They traded Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver for nothing you’d call noteworthy. Dwight Gooden, who may have been better than both, was swallowed by the streets, unable to resist the dim lights of his dark side, much like his baseball brethren, Darryl Strawberry, who was equally talented and similarly tormented.
Then we had Generation K, which flamed out as soon as it flamed on. (Jason Isringhausen had a nice career as a closer, with another team, of course.)
Then we had Tom Glavine, who, despite a Hall of Fame career, was pounded in his first and last starts for the Mets, bookends of an inglorious time in NYC.
Then we had Pedro Martinez, who, despite pitching well for just two out his four years with the team, was probably worth every dime, showing the talent and temerity that had been lacking in Flushing for too long.
Then we have Santana, who gave you a sublime debut season in 2008. After going 16-7, with a 2.53 ERA, surrendering just 206 hits in 234 innings pitched with 206 strikeouts, he never won more than 13 games again. He never pitched 200 innings again. He never struck out 150 batters again. He never started 30 games again.
The Mets will spend $137 million for, as Ed Coleman called it, $3 million per win. Was he worth it? Was it worth that eternally elusive no-hitter, after waiting half a century and 8,020 games? Was it worth the gem at the end of 2008 on three days rest, the back end of back-to-back complete games? Was it worth having his name more than his game?
We won’t ever know if the 134 pitches on that June night killed his shoulder, or the rushed and harsh moment on the mound this spring, as criticism mounted over his dubious physique and work ethic.
Sadly, they’ve been eternally compared to and competing with the Yankees, standing in ghastly relief while the Bronx Bombers have been to 14 World Series since 1962, winning eight, while the forlorn franchise in Flushing has won two out of four appearances – losing one, of course, to the Yankees.
Many Mets fans have enjoyed a silent celebration over the Yankees’ injury woes and their new, surreal state as underdogs. Then karma came back, reminding the Mets and their followers where bad luck really began.