Prince Harry outpitches Santana in loss

NEW YORK -- So much for Johan Santana's meeting with the Minnesota Twins being a positive storyline for the Mets. Instead, Saturday's lone highlight came when Harry met Frenchy.

In their first regular-season matchup with the Mets since Santana was dealt to New York on Feb. 2, 2008, the Twins produced four first-inning runs against the embattled 31-year-old left-hander. And behind a three-hit shutout from ex-Yankee Carl Pavano, the Twins evened the interleague series at a game apiece with a 6-0 victory.

The day began with Prince Harry getting ribbed about the U.S. soccer team topping England in their World Cup group, and continued with the young royal getting a five-minute lesson in pitching mechanics from unbeaten knuckleballer R.A. Dickey prior to firing a laser ceremonial first pitch to catcher Rod Barajas.

The afternoon continued with Santana allowing at least four runs for the fourth straight start, which matches a career-high futility stretch that he suffered during the first half of the 2004 season with the Twins. Santana required 41 pitches to navigate the first inning on Saturday and ultimately was charged with five runs in six innings as his record dropped to 5-5.

Since May 2, the Mets have won in only three of Santana's 11 starts. Their record in other games during that stretch: 25-14.

The Mets were shut out for the second straight game started by Santana. They have scored two runs or fewer for him in seven of his last nine starts.

"This is not the end of the world," Santana said. "We're still playing, and we keep winning games. At some point everything will turn around. I just have to keep doing my job and keep pitching."

This week, Santana was confronted with reports surfacing of a woman alleging that the pitcher raped her in October in Fort Myers, Fla. He denied the allegation to authorities at the time and no criminal charges were filed, although Santana, in his response to lawmen, acknowledged infidelity to his wife.

When asked if the allegation becoming public had any impact on the field, Santana said: "Not at all. I keep pitching. I keep playing. That's the way I am. Day in and day out, I come here trying to do my best. We're focused on baseball."

After the four-run first inning, during which the Twins swung at only two of his changeups by Barajas' recollection, Santana began incorporating his slider into his repertoire -- hoping that the third pitch would make him less predictable. He had more success at that point, limiting the Twins to one run over the next five innings.

"There are times where you get to the same patterns of fastball-change, fastball-change," Santana said. "I've got my slider, and that's something I have to use more and show them I can throw it and command it. In the second inning we started throwing it. In the last couple of innings, that's when we threw it more, and it was very effective."

As for his ill-fated first regular-season meeting with his former team, Santana added: "It just didn't work out the way we wanted it to. But at some point down the road I hope to see them again and do better."

So, as it turned out, the highlight for the Citi Field faithful came before Santana threw the game's first actual pitch.

In pregame, Dickey played catch with Prince Harry for five minutes, instructing the member of the royal family to bend his elbow during his throwing motion. Prince Harry originally was prepared to throw the baseball with his elbow stiff and unbent, like in cricket.

Jeff Francoeur, who had two of the three Mets hits, engaged Prince Harry, talking smack about soccer. In a more serious moment, the right fielder instructed him to grip the ball across the seams, rather than on the seams, so that his ceremonial first pitch would travel straighter.

"I was laughing," Francoeur said. "When he did throw out the pitch, they had him on the screen. And you could see him -- if you go back and look -- real quick he looks to make sure his hand is on the seam.

"He's a nice guy. You get to meet a lot of people around this place -- movie stars, different things. To be able to actually meet a prince like that, I think that was pretty cool for all of us. Everyone went and said hi and introduced themselves. I actually said something to him about the USA getting first place in Group C. He enjoyed that.

"He said they'll have the last laugh."

With the U.S. ousted by Ghana later on Saturday, perhaps Prince Harry's words will prove correct.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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