NEW YORK -- In the seven days following Johan Santana's no-hitter, people throughout baseball approached Mets manager Terry Collins to discuss his predicament. Everyone wanted to talk about how Collins balanced prudence with emotion that night at Citi Field, how he weighed Santana's surgically repaired shoulder against a half-century of history.
"Everybody saw it," Collins said. "It was amazing how many people actually saw the end of that game."
Collins insisted all week that he felt he had done -- and was doing -- the right thing, allowing his ace to throw a career-high 134 pitches and giving him two extra days of rest between starts. But after the Yankees bashed four home runs off Santana on Friday while Hiroki Kuroda bid to no-hit the Mets himself, Collins absorbed the blame in a 9-1 defeat.
"I am responsible for the way he pitched tonight," Collins said. "He was rusty. The command of his stuff was not as sharp as it's been the past three or four or five starts. It was my doing tonight.
"We erred on the side of caution, and it cost us the game."
Everything that Santana was throughout last Friday's no-hitter against the Cardinals, he was not at Yankee Stadium. Despite a perfect first inning that saw him strike out a pair of Yankees and tempt the Mets with his potential, Santana was unable to establish any sort of groove coming off 134 pitches and six full days of rest. He walked the leadoff batter in the second inning, before snapping his scoreless-innings streak at 19 on Robinson Cano's ensuing two-run homer.
Cano went deep for another two runs an inning later, sparking a run of three consecutive homers for the Yankees. By the time Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones finished trotting around the bases, the Mets found themselves in a 6-0 hole. That became 9-0 in the seventh, when Elvin Ramirez gave up Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly, Swisher's RBI double and Jones' run-scoring single.
Perhaps most telling was that the back-to-back-to-back home runs came on a slider, a fastball and a changeup, respectively, underscoring Santana's lack of command up and down his arsenal.
"I threw some pitches that weren't even close," Santana said. "A couple of them stayed up. Overall, I felt good -- it was just one of those days where things didn't work out."
"Especially a guy like him, one of the best in the game, I would say you've got to be lucky," Cano said. "The guy threw a no-hitter last start."
It did not help that Kuroda was as brilliant as Santana was vulnerable, allowing his only early baserunner on Derek Jeter's fielding error. The Yankee Stadium crowd had risen on its feet by the time Omar Quintanilla took his turn with two outs in the sixth, finally smashing a double into the left-center-field gap.
"It was in the back of my mind," Quintanilla said of Kuroda's no-hitter. "I just tried to block it away and go up there and have a good at-bat."
Even after Quintanilla's hit, Kuroda would have continued bidding for a shutout if Daniel Murphy's line drive did not kick off his foot in the seventh, forcing him from the game. As it was, the Yankees starter lasted seven full innings, allowing one hit, one walk and nothing more.
"He was filthy," outfielder Jason Bay said. "I faced him a few times when he was with the Dodgers. He's always been, from what I've seen, pretty good. But that was by far the best I've ever seen him."
The result was an ugly loss for the Mets -- though in the grander scheme of things, it could have been a far worse night. Santana could have shown Collins something to indicate that he was not healthy -- that, in some way, the no-hitter damaged him.
"But had he been hurt," Collins said prior to Friday's game, "it wouldn't have been a very good [news] conference today."
It wound up being an uncomfortable postgame news conference for different reasons, with Collins bemoaning his decision to give Santana extra rest. But hindsight is clearer than any other perspective, and Collins admitted that his error was made out of prudence. He had no choice but to err on the side of caution, given how carefully the Mets have proceeded with Santana since the day he underwent shoulder surgery in September 2010.
The pitcher, for his part, would not let his manager accept any blame.
"We're in this together," Santana said. "This is not just me or him or just one guy -- we win or lose together."
Last Friday, the Mets won together. This Friday, they lost together. But they did both with Santana's left shoulder intact, which in many ways was more significant than either game's outcome.