#21 – Johan Santana: Three Straight Changeups

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #21, Johan Santana:

September 27, 2008, was and still is the best game Johan Santana has pitched as a Met. He shutout the Marlins, 2-0, allowing three hits on three days rest, doing the whole thing on an injured knee. On the edge of oblivion, he kept the Mets hopes alive for one more day. He made Shea matter for one more day. If you watched that game, you remember.

There was an at-bat in the ninth inning which was the best use of a changeup I’ve seen, and will probably ever see.

The Marlins’ batter was Dan Uggla, a dead fastball hitter. With a runner on second and one out, he represented the tying run. Santana knows that Uggla is a fastball hitter — the whole world knows Uggla is a fastball hitter. But Dan Uggla knows everyone knows that, so he knows Santana wants to get him out with a changeup. And if Santana is going to get him out with a changeup, he’s going to set him up with a fastball. And if he’s going to set him up with a fastball, he’s probably going to try to sneak one by with the first pitch. And Dan Uggla loves fastballs.

So Uggla swings at the first pitch. Early. It’s a changeup. Strike one.

But now Uggla knows Santana is coming back at him with a second pitch fastball. He set him up with the changeup so he can sneak a fastball by him with the second pitch, and then go back to the changeup. He has to come with a fastball here. It’s going to be Uggla’s pitch, and he can put the Marlins on the board with one swing.

So Uggla swings at the second pitch. Early. It’s a changeup. Strike two.

Two straight changeups. Now Uggla knows Santana is trying to work backwards — he’s setting him up for a fastball. He knew Uggla would be looking fastball early in the at bat, so he pitched backwards. But Uggla knows this has to be a fastball. It has to be.

So Uggla swings at the third pitch. Early. It’s a changeup. Strike three.

Dan Uggla sits down and thinks about the general direction of his life for a few hours.

Santana struck Uggla out on three straight changeups, with a runner on second. The only word was masterful. Santana was three steps ahead of Uggla the entire time. He was in his head, thinking right with him — Santana could have thrown whatever he wanted, and Uggla wouldn’t have been ready. My favorite at bat in my favorite game in recent Mets history.

Top Mets pitchers, by adjusted ERA+:

Rk Player ERA+
1 Johan Santana 143
2 Tom Seaver 136
3 Jesse Orosco 133
4 John Franco 132
5 Bret Saberhagen 127
6 Al Leiter 124
7 Rick Reed 117
8 Dwight Gooden 116
9 Jon Matlack 115
10 Tug McGraw 114
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/18/2011.

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