Opening Day: 10 Predictions for Johan Santana's First Start
"Finally! Baseball has come back...to Citi Field!"
Forgive the WWE reference, but I'm still excited after The Rock's epic comeback on Sunday night during WrestleMania XXVIII.
Thursday marks a similar comeback of another fan-favorite as Johan Santana returns to the mound to face the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day.
Mets fans have been waiting for some good news for far too long, and the sight of Santana toeing the Citi Field rubber once again should provide a welcome respite from the doldrums of another brutal offseason.
So what can we expect from Santana in his first start since September 2, 2010? There's really no way of knowing, but let's have some fun and make a few predictions.
First Pitch: Fastball. Strike One.
No real science behind this prediction. The crowd will be on their feet, Braves OF Michael Bourn will presumably be at bat, and the sun will hopefully be shining.
Santana will want to get ahead in the count immediately, and Bourn will want to gauge a Santana fastball before taking a cut. Strike one, looking.
First Recorded Out: Strikeout.
With Bourn still batting, the crowd still roaring, and the count at 1-2, Santana will blow a fastball up in the zone past the bat of Bourn.
It will be Santana's first strikeout since whiffing former Braves 2B Omar Infante in the bottom of the fifth inning on September 2, 2010.
First Inning Boxscore: No Runs, No Hits, No Errors.
A perfect inning. Bourn goes down swinging. Martin Prado flies out to center. Brian McCann grounds out to second. Inning over.
An easy one-two-three inning ends the first frame of work for the Mets ace. The Citi Field crowd loves it. This marks the pinnacle of excitement in Queens for the duration of the 2012 season.
First Hit Allowed: Jason Heyward Single.
With two outs, and nobody on base in the second inning, Santana will allow a harmless single to Braves OF Jason Heyward.
Despite hitting an abysmal .192 against LHP in 2011, Heyward is poised for a breakout season. He will poke a Santana fastball into left field for a two-out single. No harm is done after Santana retires the next batter.
First Plate Appearance: Sacrifice Bunt.
Santana is a great athlete and has a .174 career average, which is nothing to scoff at as a pitcher.
However, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that SS Ruben Tejada can find his way on base ahead of Santana and warrant a bunt situation.
I'm a sucker for spring optimism I suppose.
First Run Allowed: RBI Single by Freddie Freeman
Santana will work through the Braves batting order twice without a blemish. The third time around starts to get a bit difficult for the veteran lefty against the upstart Braves.
A one-out double by Dan Uggla in the top half of the sixth is followed up with an RBI single from Freddie Freeman, 1-0 Atlanta. Santana retires the next two batters to escape the sixth down by only one.
First Controversial Terry Collins Move of 2012
With Santana's spot in the order due up in the bottom half of the sixth, and double-barrel action in the Mets bullpen, manager Terry Collins allows Santana to hit with two outs and nobody on base.
Santana flies out, and takes the mound for his seventh inning of work.
A double, a walk, and a two-run double later, the Mets are down 3-0 and Collins gives Santana the hook. A great start wasted.
First Amazin Moment of 2012: A Loud Answer
The Mets bullpen allows the inherited runner on second to score, leaving New York down 4-0. Santana's final line looks like this: 6 INN, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 ER, 5 K.
Torres starts the seventh inning with a leadoff double. Murphy follows with an RBI Single. 4-1.
David Wright doubles. 4-2. Braves P Tommy Hanson is pulled.
Ike Davis flies out.
Jason Bay strikes out...obviously.
Lucas Duda homers, game tied. Santana is now off the hook for the loss.
Josh Thole grounds out. Inning over. 4-4 heading into the eighth.
First Bullpen Debacle: Mets Blow It, Braves Close It
Atlanta scores two in the top of the eighth to pull ahead 6-4.
The Mets go down in order in the bottom of the frame at the hands of Braves reliever Johnny Venters.
Another unnamed Mets reliever gives the Braves yet another run in the top of the ninth, 7-4 Atlanta.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel shuts the door in the bottom of the ninth, striking out the side.
First Post-Game Comments: Santana Confident
In the clubhouse, Santana's locker will be stormed by New York media asking him how he felt 13 different times.
Santana will use the words "fresh," "excited," and "strong" multiple times. Still, he will admit that he has room for improvement and will look to get better with each start he makes.
The secondary commentary of the game will surround the "guts" and "heart" the unheralded Mets lineup showed after battling back from four runs down.
The bullpen will be an issue all season long.
Keep Your Heads Up
An Opening Day loss at home never feels good. It feels even worse when your ace returns with a strong outing, only to be sullied by a managerial faux pas.
The fortitude shown by the Mets lineup will be a theme throughout the season. Before long, they will be tagged as a "scrappy" bunch. If the bullpen can learn how to get batters out, these Mets may actually be fun to watch this season.