NEW YORK -- Uncertainty has surrounded Johan Santana ever since shoulder surgery ended his 2010 season. The left-hander missed all of 2011 with an injury that has been a death knell for many careers. His four-hit shutout in a 9-0 win over the Padres on Saturday helped show the Mets they can hope for dominance -- and not just health -- from their veteran left-hander.
Santana needed only 96 pitches (74 strikes) against an aggressive Padres team. He struck out seven and never reached a three-ball count. Six times, a Padres inning lasted exactly nine pitches. It was the ninth shutout of his career.
"It is a great feeling for me just to put my uniform on and be part of my team," Santana said. "And now, being able to help, being able to go out there every five games, is definitely something I was waiting for."
"We were talking in Spring Training about nobody has ever come back from that surgery and what a tough road he's got ahead," manager Terry Collins said. "You put in all the work that he's put in, and I said, 'If anyone can come back from it, it's him when you get to know him.'"
At times this season, Santana has struggled with his fastball command. An errant pitch in his last start against Pittsburgh on Monday let the Pirates tie the game on a two-run homer. Collins said his pitcher told him after the game, "I owe you one. I'll never make that mistake again."
If Santana made a similar mistake Saturday, the Padres didn't capitalize. Santana allowed a two-out single in the first and a leadoff hit in the second but went on to retire 16 straight Padres before Jesus Guzman singled to left in the seventh inning. In a game that lasted only 2 hours, 18 minutes, the Padres were hacking.
"Today, I had better command," Santana said. "The last game I wasn't able to command it too well. When you have that command, then it makes my other pitches better. But also you have a team that was very aggressive. It was just a matter of throwing the right pitch and locating it in the right spot."
"You know he's going to throw strikes," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He was around the plate. My conclusion was if we would have taken a lot of pitches, there would have been a lot of called third strikes. It didn't look like we swung at a lot of balls."
Had Santana thrown this game earlier in the season, he might have been left with a no-decision. The Mets did not score a run while Santana was in the game during the left-hander's first five starts this season, but their bats have attempted to atone for their lack of production. For the second straight outing, Santana had a four-run lead before his second inning of work. This time, he cashed in.
Scott Hairston batted with one out in the first inning after Andres Torres led off the game with a single and David Wright drew a four-pitch walk. Hairston turned on a low 3-2 fastball from San Diego starter Clayton Richard and struck it off the original black wall in left field. A year ago, Hairston would have been at second, but instead his shot landed safely over the 358-foot sign on the new blue fence. Two batters later, Vinny Rottino hit his first Major League homer to left-center field to give the Mets a 4-0 lead. His blast also landed between the two walls.
"Gotta love the new dimensions," Hairston said.
After its early start, the Mets' offense stayed quiet until the eighth, when it provided a five-run bookend. Mike Nickeas struck the big blow with a grand slam to left field, a shot that also would not have gone out with Citi Field's old dimensions. It was the Mets' first bases-loaded homer this season.
Earlier in the inning, Ike Davis, who started the game on the bench, pinch-hit for Hairston and delivered an opposite-field double to score Justin Turner. The RBI was his fifth in his last three games, and the extra-base hit was his 10th in 150 at-bats this season.
"My swing feels better," Davis said. "When your swing feels better, you can see the ball a lot better. Before, if I missed the one pitch I thought I could handle, it was like, 'Oh, God.' But now, I hope I can keep feeling good, and we'll see what happens in the next few games."
"When a guy can go CG shutout when it had been however long it had been since he had done that, the grand slam was the icing for me," Nickeas said.
Santana's shutout was his first since Aug. 12, 2010 against the Rockies. Twelve days later he threw a complete game against the Pirates, and 21 days later he would make what would be his last start before surgery. Asked if he had any goals entering this season, Santana stopped well short of complete games and shutouts.
"I want to be healthy," Santana said. "Simple as that."