Winners Want the Ball

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In the immortal words of Coach Jimmy McGinty, speaking to Shane Falco:

Winners always want the ball… when the game is on the line.

Johan Santana is pulling a Shane Falco and demanding the ball for Saturday’s game. With that information, I’m doing a rain dance.

Because although Johan is clearly the ace, and the one “big game” pitcher the Mets have, I don’t see this as a great decision. First of all, Santana is pitching on short rest, and coming off a game in which he threw a career-high 125 pitches. If he has anything at all, it can’t be enough to get him through more than six innings — if that. Let’s pretend Johan no-hits the Fish through those six, then runs out of gas. Guess what? The vaunted Mets bullpen takes over. Yee ha.

Better yet, let’s assume the best possible scenario: Johan pitches great, the Mets win. Now who starts in the next version of the most important game of the season on Sunday? Ollie Perez on short rest? His history — both recent and working on short rest in his career — is questionable at best. Certainly Jon Niese won’t get the ball. I suppose Jerry Manuel would be forced to take his matchup strategy to the max — possibly using a different pitcher (or more) every single inning.

And then there’s thinking about beyond tomorrow, beyond Sunday, and beyond 2008. Johan Santana is signed for seven years. Although he hasn’t shown any signs of breaking down, pitching on three days’ rest, after throwing 125 pitches, could push him beyond his limits and cause the beginning of an overuse injury — particularly if the Mets DO make the postseason and Johan, obviously, continues pitching in October.

The desperate moves to push the team into the offseason should have happened on July 31, not September 28th. If it was so important to save the prospects “for the future”, and not give them up for people like Jon Rauch, Chad Bradford, Manny Ramirez, Xavier Nady, etc., then that same long-term thinking must be applied when it comes to protecting their most expensive investment. If the Mets truly are concerned about 2009 and beyond, then Johan does not pitch on Saturday — regardless of whether he wants the ball. Of course he wants the ball, he’s a winner!

Back to my original idea: rain dance. Let’s hope it rains all night and all Saturday, so Johan is forced to wait an extra day. It could mean all the difference in the world for the future of this franchise.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. murph September 27, 2008 at 12:35 am
    I agree, Joe.
    Johan can only pitch one game out of the next two. The Mets have to win both of them, regardless of which game Santana pitches.
    So why not pitch him at full strength?
    They can pitch their “all hands on deck” strategy on Saturday.

    I also agree that a rainout is the Mets best hope. Perhaps the grounds crew can sneak in tonight and accidentally take the tarp off the infield.

  2. joe September 27, 2008 at 12:46 am
    Murph, I wish I could have been succinct as you … you’re absolutely right: the Mets have to win both games, so why not have Santana at full strength for one of them?

    The only thing that might make sense is if the plan is to pitch Ollie on short rest as well. But he hasn’t exactly been lights out lately, so not sure why you’d want to do that.

    Do whatever is necessary to win on Saturday, then leave it up to Johan to take the team wherever they’re fated to go.

  3. isuzudude September 27, 2008 at 8:14 am
    I’m jumping on the pile as well. Kudos to Johan for wanting to be the season’s savior, but that just means the Mets have to find a replacement for him in a “must-win” game on Sunday. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    The fact is, as you alluded to in the post, Joe, the Mets should be thinking more about 2009 at this point than this year’s postseason. The Mets wanted Jon Niese more than anybody who could have helped the team’s cause via trade this season, but now don’t want to use Niese when the season is on the line. You simply can’t have it both ways. This is just another example of the ass-backwards mentality by ownership that we have learned to accept because the team has been winning despite of it. But sooner or later enough straws are eventually going to break the camel’s back. And with yet another September collapse taking place before our eyes, did anybody else find it weird that there were leaks of Omar Minaya getting a 4-year extension? Shouldn’t this be the time that we should point out that it’s been under Omar’s watch that this team has had one of the highest payroll’s in all of baseball but has failed to make the playoffs, now, in 3 out of the last 4 seasons? Is that really the record deserving of a 4-year extension, as well as an announcement during the time that his decisions are costing the team another postseason berth? I’ve said before that I like Omar and I credit him for being the driving force behind making the Mets “players” again, but I think we’re clearly reaching the time when we need to find somebody else who will help us get over the hump. Because I don’t think I can take 4 more years of close-but-no-cigar finishes.

  4. joe September 27, 2008 at 11:15 am
    Omar has done a great job of making sure the Mets “play meaningful games in September”. However his bosses don’t care much for October games — apparently they can take ’em or leave ’em. (Though they’re quite happy to take playoff ticket deposits!)

    Maybe the early autumn is too chilly for them ….

  5. murph September 28, 2008 at 10:05 am
    In hindsight, of course, I see the value of Johan pitching on Saturday.
    The intangible benefit we overlooked in our pre-game analysis is the momentum and the lift he that he could give his teammates with a gutty performance and victory.

    Who could have expected a 3-hit shutout. That was an awesome performance by Johan Santana. I salute you, sir!
    Now let’s hope it carries the Mets over the top today…