Johan Santana of the New York Mets pitches against the Florida Marlins during their Opening Day game at Citi Field in the Flushing neighbourhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Johan Santana used to be the best pitcher in the world. Last year he didn't pitch at all. But does his no-hitter Friday night mean he's all the way back?
Johan Santana has won only three games this season.
But two of those were shutouts, and one of those was a no-hitter. The first no-hitter thrown by a New York Metropolitan, in case you haven't heard, in New York Metropolitan history.
This, from a pitcher who missed all of last season. Of course, this also from a pitcher who, not so long ago, won a couple of Cy Young Awards and garnered a six-year, $137.5-million contract with the Mets.
In his first season with the Mets, Santana was nearly worth what they paid him.
In his second and third seasons with the Mets, Santana became worth progressively less.
In this fourth season with the Mets, Santana wasn't worth anything at all.
In this, his fifth season? He's got only three wins. But his ERA is 2.38, lower than his previous career-best. He's allowed only four home runs in 68 innings, which makes for the best ratio of his career. And so one might reasonably ask ...
Is Johan Santana back? I mean, really back?
The Johan Santana who won those Cy Young Awards struck out 10 (American League) batters per nine innings; the Santana who pitched a no-hitter strikes out 9 (National League) batters per nine innings.
Also, the Santana who won those Cy Young Awards walked almost two (American League) batters per nine innings; the Santana who pitched a no-hitter walks almost three (National League) batters per nine innings.
Forget about those statistics, though. Here's another set, far more striking ...
The Santana who won those Cy Young awards routinely threw 92-93 miles an hour; the Santana who pitched a no-hitter reached 90 miles an hour only twice all night, and then just barely.
But while Johan Santana has become a different sort of pitcher in many ways, he's remained exactly the same in others. He still throws his fastball, however unimpressive it's become, 60 percent of the time. He still throws sliders, and still throws one of the best change-ups in the world. He's the same pitcher, but differently. Or perhaps a different pitcher, but similarly. You would have to ask him which.
Is Johan Santana back? Well, someone named Johan Santana is pitching lights-out, again. Like the old Johan Santana, the new Johan Santana throws a killer change-up and you really don't want to cross him.
That Johan Santana who won those Cy Young Awards, though? He's gone, forever. He's actually been gone for quite some time, was on his way out of the game even before the Mets traded for "Johan Santana". This new Johan Santana, though? With the rebuilt elbow, if not the rebuilt fastball? He's pretty good. Give him a few bonus points for doing something no Met had ever done, in 50 years, and he might even be worth something like the paychecks he be drawing for the next year-and-a-half.
Which might sound like back-handed praise, but isn't. Nobody forced anyone to give Johan Santana $137.5 million. That was the Mets' choice. All this Johan Santana can do is pitch as well as he can pitch. And this season he seems to be doing exactly that.