2008-08-15 / Sports

Santana Keeps On Pitching Despite Mets' Bullpen, Hitting Woes

By Brian Bohl

FLUSHING, NY—Before last Thursday's matinee, the Mets announced the club is on pace to exceed the 4-million attendance mark for the first time in the organization's 46-year history.

The next two months will determine if those hordes of people witnessed the early stages of a memorable season or simply enjoyed Shea Stadium's final year. Yet for Johan Santana, the big blue stadium near Flushing Bay is turning into a house of horrors.

Back in February, the 29-year-old made his grand entrance at Shea to announce the signing of his $137.5 million contract that immediately followed his trade from Minnesota. For that amount of money, the Mets expected Santana to produce a season worthy of a third Cy Young Award.

Midway through August, Santana is 10-7, hardly a record that would garner the southpaw any postseason accolades. But that ledger is not indicative of performance.

Habitual bullpen meltdowns and lack of run support continue to victimize Santana in the game, especially in the Mets 5-3 win against the San Diego Padres on August 7. Reliever Scott Schoeneweis epitomizing that trend by blowing a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth Thursday before David Wright eventually bailed the Mets out with a game-winning homer in the bottom half of the inning.

Santana limited the Padres to just two runs on four hits in seven innings, the 11th time in his past 13 starts he allowed three or fewer earned runs. Yet Santana is 2-4 in those starts and saddled with a slew no-decisions that easily could put his win total at 15 or 16.

Santana, who lowered his ERA to an impressive 2.85 ERA, stood by his locker after his start against the Padres and insisted his low win total is not demoralizing.

"It's easy to say that once things happen but this is reality, and in reality, I only have nine wins," Santana said. "I don't blame it on anybody. I don't feel sorry about things.

"I'm not trying to impress anybody," he added. "I know what I'm capable of doing. I know how I got to this point and how to do my job. It's just about being consistent and doing my job."

Billy Wagner's unavailability due to a strained forearm cost Santana another victory. Two weeks ago, the Mets blew a three-run ninth inning lead when a string of relievers imploded in a devastating loss to the Phillies. Wagner was on the roster but couldn't pitch in that game and is currently on the disabled list.

Manager Jerry Manuel continued to hold auditions for the closer's role, watching Aaron Heilman and then Schoeneweis crack under the lateinning pressure. Santana is earning his nearly $17-million salary this year, performing as the top-flight ace the Mets expected when the club packaged four prospects to the Twins to acquire him.

Thanks to bad luck, Santana might win fewer than 15 games for the first time since 2003, when went 12-3 shuttling from the rotation and bullpen. He is currently on pace to win 12 games, though the 6-0, 208-pound former All- Star stressed he is still patient that the wins will come.

"You never give up," Santana said. That I'm here for a reason: to help this team. That's why they brought me here. That's what I was told here. And not trying to be a hero. Just try to help them anyway I can and that's what I'm doing."

Take me out to the ballgame: The final two seasons at Shea Stadium will be the most successful in the park's history. Following a team-high attendance mark of 3,853,955 in 2007, the Mets are on pace to surpass four million tickets sold in the final season before the Amazin's move into Citi Field.

he Mets rank first in National League attendance and recorded an average attendance of 49,726, according to baseballreference.com. That would beat the previous record of 47,850 average fans-per-game, which was also set last year.

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