New York Mets ace Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in team history on Friday night against the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Santana, who was nothing but stellar during his tenure with the Minnesota Twins, gave baseball fans a glimpse back at how dominant he used to be and how effective his changeup still is.
The southpaw walked five redbirds and struck out eight on his way to the no-no. Santana is still electric, as everyone saw Friday. Despite the five walks, he showed the baseball world that he can still compete. Despite being 33 years old and missing the entire 2011 season because of shoulder surgery, he threw 134 pitches and earned the nickname "No-Han."
Although video can prove that third base umpire Adrian Johnson's sixth inning foul call was clearly wrong and Carlos Beltran should have been credited with breaking up the no-no, the main question from the night was Santana's health. He has had shoulder problems in the past, so was 134 pitches too much? There comes a time when the coaching staff, most importantly the manager, need to consider what is best for the pitcher.
Approaching 100 pitches is a sign that the pitcher is probably at his limit for the night. Throwing 110 pitches is only done under special circumstances. If the bullpen is tired or has been struggling, the starter may be asked to go towards 110, but it's rare. A total of 134, though, is unquestionably a lot of pitches, especially for a guy who has a thick medical folder like Santana.
Yes, Santana had a no-hitter. Yes, it's exciting because it has never been done in Mets history. But there comes a time when the future health of a pitcher needs to be considered. What if Santana tweaked something in his shoulder or elbow during the start but didn't want to say anything? If that were the case, throwing more pitches and aggravating the affected area could lead to long-term problems or future injury.
Mets manager Terry Collins had confidence in his ace, no question. He probably thought about pulling him from time to time as Santana climbed over 100 pitches. Managers have a very difficult job and have to make decisions that not only impact the outcome of the game but also affect the health of their players. The first priority is to win but to do it without causing long-term injury to a star pitcher.
Collins told ESPN.com that he knew it was a difficult decision to make, but the immediate outcome was special.
"I'm very excited for him, but in five days, if his arm is bothering him, I'm not going to feel very good," Collins said.
These situations bring pressure. Fans are excited, it’s major league history and the pitcher is trying to accomplish one of baseball's biggest feats. Santana is a great pitcher, and there are other great pitchers out there trying to achieve the same accomplishment. But there are times when the player's long-term health could be a problem because of one game that leads to team problems deeper in the season.