Forget about the subtext of Johan Santana facing the Minnesota Twins on Saturday for the first time in a regular-season game since being dealt to the Mets on Feb. 2, 2008.
The game is far more important in the sense that Santana needs to turn in a good performance. The left-hander has allowed four runs in three straight games. If the Twins reach that total, it will match Santana’s career-high streak of consecutive games allowing at least four runs.
From May 18-June 3, 2004, Santana allowed four-plus runs in four straight starts.
Of course, Santana eventually finished 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA that season and won the first of his two AL Cy Young awards.
Santana actually drew a parallel between ’04 and this season. In both instances, Santana was coming off surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. In ’04, Santana went 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA in 15 second-half starts.
“Having those bone chips in my elbow definitely changed my mechanics a little bit,” Santana said about this year’s issues. “… I’m still making my adjustments. The doctor told me it would take up to a year to feel fully recovered. I mean, I’m competing. I’m doing my job. And I feel like I’m making my adjustments and improving every start. I remember that ’04 in Minnesota it took me a couple of months to put everything together. Then, after that, I got into a roll where everything was great.”
Of course, Santana this week also has confronted off-the-field issues that became public about a sexual encounter with a woman on a golf course in October in Fort Myers, Fla.
On a lighter note, the last time the Twins visited Flushing, Santana tossed a four-hit shutout against the Mets on June 19, 2007. Minnesota broadcaster Bert Blyleven, who won 287 games in the majors, ended up with a shaved head as a result of that performance.
“We were riding the bus in ’07,” Santana recalled about the ride from the team hotel to Shea Stadium. “He challenged me that if I would throw a complete-game shutout he would shave his head. And I told him not to challenge me on the bus. I said I was going for it. I did, and the next day he was a man of his word and I ended up shaving his head."
Any bets this time?
“He told me today that he doesn’t want to do that,” Santana said with a laugh.
Santana did face the Twins in spring training in March and gave up homers to a pair of prospects. Still, while downplaying this faceoff, the southpaw nonetheless noted: “It’s totally different.” After facing the Twins, Santana will have pitched against all 30 major league teams.
Said former batterymate Joe Mauer: “We know he’s a great pitcher, and he’s a good friend of mine and he was a good teammate, but when we step between those lines it’s going to be a little different.”
Santana said he still follows the Twins, but he hasn’t done a great job of staying in touch. Santana lives in Fort Myers, where Minnesota trains before the season.
“We haven’t had a chance to get together,” Santana said. “We’ve talked once in a while. I’m definitely looking forward to stay in contact and get together more often. I’ve been invited a couple of times to play golf, and my golf game is terrible, so it’s tough. All I can say is those guys are great. We had a great time together.”