NEW YORK (AP) - Johan Santana had already thrown 93 pitches. He was due up in the bottom of the fifth and it appeared to be a natural spot for a pinch hitter.
So when Santana sauntered out to the on-deck circle with a runner on in a one-run game, it created quite a buzz at Citi Field. No, it had nothing to do with his ability with the bat. It was seeing the Mets' No. 1 starter ready for another inning on the mound.
Santana walked the only batter he faced in the sixth but he managed to turn in another positive performance in a 4-0 loss to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on the 50th anniversary of the Mets' first game.
``I was able to compete and I feel good,' Santana said Wednesday. ``I told (manager Terry Collins) I felt good and he let me go back out there. I didn't come through, but at least I was able to warm up and come back out again. So that's a good sign.'
Meeting in a blustery, chilly matinee, Strasburg (1-0) and Santana each got off to an erratic start but settled into a duel of pitchers coming back from major arm operations.
Santana (0-1) allowed five hits in five-plus innings but his wild pitch gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the second inning of a game that lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes even though the Mets had only three hits. New York pitchers combined to walk 10 and hit one batter.
``I'm very happy at this stage,' Collins said, ``and five days from now you'll see him again.'
Strasburg allowed two hits and struck out nine while throwing more than 100 pitches for the first time in the major leagues. He helped the Nationals take the final two games of the three-game series against their division rival with stellar pitching - Ross Detwiler shut down the Mets on Tuesday night.
``I was going to hold him to 100 pitches but I didn't know who to go to to get out of the jam,' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of the two-on, one-out jam in the sixth. ``I probably would've had to strangle him to get the ball to get him out of the game.'
Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez each pitched a scoreless inning for a Nationals bullpen that is without closer Drew Storen, who is out with an elbow injury.
New York's bullpen gave up two bases-loaded walks and a run-scoring grounder by Chad Tracy in the eighth. By that time, much of the announced crowd of 34,614 had left.
The 33-year-old Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, was making just his second start in 19 months after undergoing left shoulder surgery. His operation was about two weeks after Strasburg had elbow ligament-replacement surgery in September 2010.
Santana's fastball was clocked at about the same speed (a high of 90 mph, reached once) as the 23-year-old phenom's changeup (89 mph). Strasburg's fastball peaked at 98 mph.
Strasburg gave up a single to his first batter, Ruben Tejada, and walked Daniel Murphy in a 26-pitch first inning. After starting the second with a walk, he started to command his curveball better and went on a run of retiring 10 in a row until hitting Ronny Cedeno with a pitch with one out in the fifth.
``I was really concerned early because he was pitching backward. He was using a lot of changeups, back-to-back changeups, curveballs, even cutting his fastball,' Johnson said. ``He got straightened out in the third inning and started pitching like he can.'
Said Strasburg: ``I have four out pitches. It's just a matter of commanding them.'
Ike Davis singled in the sixth, ending an 0-for-18 start. That was just the second hit for the Mets, who wore their white uniforms instead of their traditional pinstripes for the anniversary game.
Santana needed 27 pitches to get through the first and finished with 99 overall. In the second, he bounced a slider in front of the plate that went to the backstop, allowing Mark DeRosa to score. DeRosa singled leading off the inning and moved to third on Xavier Nady's single to right.
Santana retired 10 in a row, striking out four straight at one point, before allowing back-to-back hits in the fifth.
``He looks great,' catcher Josh Thole said. ``I think it's what everybody expects from him.'
NOTES: Roger Craig threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Craig started the Mets' opener in 1962 at St. Louis, an 11-4 loss. He led the team with 10 wins that year, throwing 13 complete games. ... Collins was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Larry Vanover. ... The Mets drew 197,672 for their first homestand this year, up from 184,429 for their first six home games last year. ... Johnson had no new information on Storen (elbow) and slugger Michael Morse (back). He said tests on Morse, who had a setback in a minor league rehab game, were sent to Dr. James Andrews. Storen's agent says the pitcher had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his pitching elbow. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports said Wednesday's procedure went as expected. ... Collins said he wouldn't be surprised to see 3B David Wright (broken pinkie finger) in the lineup Friday.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved