2008-02-15 / Sports

Santana Makes The Day For the Mets

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY - When it comes to press conferences, the Mets do them the best. From the satay, rice and sandwiches to the black curtains covering the windows to block the view of outside, the Mets make old Shea look very elegant.

Yet, they should. Over the past few seasons they have had experience with this. Before 2005, the Mets introduced Willie Randolph and Pedro Martinez in this manner, and the next season it was Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner on back to back days. And no, they didn't just microwave the food from the day before.

And after last season, they had all the politicians and executives on hand to break ground at Citi Field, which is rising in the outfield.

All of that practice has allowed the Amazins' to give Johan Santana the best welcome to New York City.

"Welcome to the City of Baseball," proclaimed general manager Omar Minaya, just before he brought Santana up to the podium to don his No. 57 jersey.

It wasn't intended to be a dig at the Super Bowl champion Giants; Minaya was just stating the fact. Baseball is New York's game and now Santana shines as its brightest star. "All I want to do is play the game and enjoy everything I do," Santana said. "It's a new chapter in my career, and I look forward to that. I look forward to having a good time in New York.

"You come to New York, where you know you're going to have a chance to win. And I really like that idea. It wasn't a tough decision. It was something I was looking forward to." After the $150 million contract the Wilpons handed him, it made his decision pretty easy. But Santana, used to maybe two or three writers in Minnesota, stood in and fielded questions from the 200 or so members of the media as they broke down into smaller groups.

And they ranged from the easy ones, like "Are you happy to be here?" He is. To the harder ones like if he would have accepted a trade to the Mets without an extension? He wouldn't.

But all of that is moot as Santana brings to the Mets something they sought since the mid-1980's: A No. 1 starter in his prime. Sure, Martinez put up ace numbers in 2005, but that was a different pitcher than what was on the mound at Fenway in 1999, and Tom Glavine, the man who Santana replaces, was never a No. 1 for the Mets in the truest sense.

Santana gives the Mets an ace and pushes the rotation down one in 2008. Now, there will be someone there to stop the bleeding, instead of watching a long losing streak, as the Mets experienced last September, when they collapsed during the final 17 games.

But Randolph and Minaya both said Pedro still considers himself an ace and loves the competition with Santana.

"I have two legitimate stoppers, so I have a choice to make," Randolph said.

"But I'm sure it will be a pleasant choice. I've got a month to think about that."

Minaya also said getting Santana was important, since there was no one of his caliber available as a free agent after the 2008 season, when Martinez, Orlando Hernandez and Oliver Perez become free agents.

Santana doesn't guarantee the playoffs, and both Randolph and David Wright, who was on-hand, said the Phillies were still the team to beat.

And that's why they still play the games. The Mets now get their prize and they hope Santana is enough to have their next press conference, much like the one the Giants had at City Hall.

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