Whatever way you want to slice and dice the Mets Sunday-night defeat in Philadelphia, there's no getting away from the fact that Johan Santana struggled.
Struggled is probably the nicest word to describe his shortcomings in Citizens Bank Park. It's like saying that Stalin struggled to understand the merits of democracy or that C.C. Sabathia struggled to fit into a pair or Chinos with a 36-inch waist.
Just how bad was Santana against Philly? Well, he tied his career high for most home runs allowed in a start (four) and gave up more earned runs than ever before (10).
Santana gave up four earned runs against the Phillies last June, but at least he got through seven innings. In fact, he only gave up five runs in that game despite the four long balls, and he even picked up the win.
Last night was different though. The Phillies sent 13 to the plate in the fourth inning and a dejected Santana was back in the dugout after just 71 pitches.
This ranks right up there with his all-time worst ever performances. It was worse than the 10-hit beatdowns against the Red Sox in 2000 and the White Sox in 2004 when he couldn't make it through the fourth inning; worse than the time the White Sox pummeled him for eight earned runs and three home runs in 3.2 innings 2002; worse than the nine runs the Yankees tagged him for just last year.
But let's not fool ourselves here. While Santana may not be the pitcher he was two or three years ago, he's still a stud. Leslie Montiero wrote a great article today about putting the defeat in perspective, and it's true. The loss does not make or break their season, just as a win would not have made New York favorites to win the National League.
Mets fans shouldn't linger on Santana's performance or the defeat, but rather to put it behind them and move forward. It's not a quality Mets fans have displayed over the past few seasons, but a loss is a loss and there's no point dwelling on it.
After a historic 9-1 homestand and eight-game winning streak, that was apparently the calm before the storm. We took a game against the best team in the division on the road. That's nothing to really cry about.
Looking ahead though, how will Santana bounce back? He's scheduled to pitch against the San Francisco Giants back at Citi Field on Saturday.
Since 2005, Santana has given up five earned runs or more nine times. In his next nine starts he is undefeated with a 2.25 ERA.
In fact, he has only given up five or more runs in back-to-back games twice in his entire career, and that was back when he was a green hurler in Minnesota in 2000 and 2003.
Simply put, Santana learns from his mistakes and puts a bad outing behind him. He has bouncebackability, a term coined by an English soccer manager to refer to a team that can recover from a defeat.
Whenever Santana struggles, he comes back stronger than ever. Look at the proof.
In 2005 he gave up a season-high seven runs to the Blue Jays but bounced back with 11 strikeouts in seven dominate innings over the Brewers the next time out. Later that year, he gave up six runs against the Angels but rallied in his next start 10 days later to pitch seven innings of one-run ball against the same team.
In 2007 he gave up six runs to Toronto while still playing for the Twins, but he struck out 12 Indians five days later.
Two years ago, Santana allowed five runs against the Reds and came back with eight solid innings against the Phillies, and just three weeks ago, the Mets ace allowed five runs in five innings against the Nationals, but shut out the Cardinals through seven innings when he was next on the mound.
Santana is not immune to the occasional meltdown, but he takes what he needs to from the beating. Past history tells us that he will be back to his dominant self this weekend. History tells us that he's going to unleash a world of hurt on the Giants.
Pablo Sandoval may need more than kung-fu to hit the Mets when he rolls into Flushing. If I was him, I'd just close my eyes, swing the biggest stick of bamboo I could find, and hope for the best.
When Santana bounces back from an ugly defeat, hope is all you really have.