Well, he may no longer be the best, but the lefty's no-hitter on Friday — the first in Mets history — served as a reminder that he's still a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Although Santana has been productive when he's been physically capable of taking the mound, his true talent has gotten lost in the shuffle a bit, largely because of the injury problems he's had since getting traded to the Mets during the 2008 offseason.
Even when healthy, Santana hasn't been the same pitcher he was in Minnesota. Few are. But he hasn't been a slouch either. Instead, it's simply been the injury bug that's left such a huge bite mark on Santana's post-Minny career to this point.
Santana reeled in two American League Cy Young Awards during his illustrious run in Minnesota, and went on a streak of five straight seasons with over 200 innings and 200 strikeouts from 2004 to 2008. That five-year span included his first seaseon in The Big Apple, when the left-hander tossed a career-high 234 1/3 innings and went 16-7 with a career-best 2.53 ERA.
Ever since that '08 campaign, Santana's production has been overshadowed by the aforementioned injury bug, though, as elbow and shoulder problems limited him to less than 30 starts in 2009 and 2010, and caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.
In addition to the injuries Santana has had to deal with, expectations have truly gotten the best of him as well. The expectations were so high for Santana when he was dealt in 2008 (this is a guy who Minnesota once demanded the likes of Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury for) that anything less than brilliance was considered unacceptable. And those demands from New Yorkers are totally understandable. We're talking about a guy who inked a then record-setting six-year, $137.5 million deal.
But while Santana still features a sub-3.00 ERA for his Mets career, the common conception amongst many baseball fans is that we've seen all there is to be seen when it comes to the talented hurler. It might be time to rethink that notion.
Santana had been baffling hitters at times through his first 10 starts of 2012, but it was Friday's no-no that shows that there's plenty still left in the 33-year-old's tank. He struck out eight and threw 134 pitches while blanking the Cardinals and making baseball history.
Santana also walked five in Friday's no-no, so it wasn't exactly perfect, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a Mets fan who wouldn't consider the performance such.
If Santana stays healthy — a big if — Friday's no-hitter won't seem so crazy later in the season. For now, though, it's surprising.
But who doesn't love surprises?