NEW YORK -- Johan Santana's celebrity has increased manifold since he pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1 against the Cardinals. Santana has been the topic du jour on talk shows and late-night comedy sketches, his face printed on T-shirts, his signature emblazoned on every piece of memorabilia the Mets could preserve from the game.
Now, Santana has received a token of appreciation from the city where he works. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared at Citi Field on Friday to present Santana with a ceremonial Key to the City, presenting it to the left-hander prior to the start of this weekend's Subway Series.
"He is a true competitor," said Bloomberg, who called Santana to congratulate him in the days following his no-hitter. "He was out for more than a year, sidelined with an injury, and he didn't let it bother him. That's the spirit of New York."
Santana pitched his no-hitter in just his 11th start of the year, after missing all of last season recovering from surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder. The Mets have monitored him closely throughout the young season, agonizing over the career-high 134 pitches he threw in his no-no.
"I came into this season just hoping to make it out of Spring Training, and here I am," Santana said, clutching the key. "To have something very special like this is unbelievable."
The Mets brought Santana to New York prior to the 2008 season, acquiring him from Minnesota and quickly inking him to a six-year, $137.5-million contract extension. Though the left-hander splits his offseason time between his hometown Venezuela and Fort Myers, Fla., he has nonetheless become part of the fabric of New York City.
That fabric will always include baseball and the Subway Series against the Yankees, which began Friday at Citi Field.
"Like a lot of New Yorkers, I am one of those people that is hoping that this Subway Series is a prelude to another Subway Series in October," Bloomberg said. "I don't think there's any question about it this year -- the Mets have given the fans a lot of reasons to cheer and thrills."
According to New York City's official website, the Key to the City is a tradition dating back to 1702, and "is bestowed upon distinguished persons and honored guests of the City of New York. ... In New York, the act of giving the Key of the City is symbolic, since the city has no gates to unlock."