Santana came up big when the Mets needed it, striking out 10 to lead New York over the Washington Nationals 4-3 Friday night and stop a four-game losing streak.
Offensively challenged New York scored twice following failed sprawling catches that turned singles into triples. The Mets went 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13.
But the Nationals were even worse in the clutch, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. While Washington is batting .264, its RISP average is .231, a big factor in its major league-worst 3-12 record.
"We were real consistent," loser Scott Olsen said. "We got infield flies."
Carlos Beltran tripled for his 1,000th RBI on his 32nd birthday, and Fernando Tatis also tripled for the Mets.
Santana (3-1) allowed one run and six hits in six innings, walked one and reached double digits in strikeouts for the 45th time in his career. Nick Johnson's sixth-inning homer raised Santana's NL-leading ERA from 0.46 to 0.70.
New York has just six runs in Santana's starts while he's been in the game. And while the Mets have a .288 overall batting average, they're hitting just .168 (21-for-125) in games started this year by the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
"I'm always up a challenge. It was a big challenge for us tonight after losing four games in a row," Santana said. "You want to stop everything right there, and I knew I have to do something, you know, to make that happen."
Manager Jerry Manuel said he doesn't have to get big strikeout games from his ace.
"When Johan is pitching, one pitch would be great for me. I could care less about, you know, all the strikeouts," he said.
Then, remembering how his defense botched another popup, he backtracked.
"The one thing the strikeouts do is, we don't have to catch it.
You know what I'm saying? That could be good for us, too," Manuel said.
Jesus Flores hit a two-run homer in the ninth off Francisco Rodriguez, who got his fourth save in four chances. While 26 homers were hit in the first six games at the new Yankee Stadium, there have been just 12 in seven games at Citi Field, where not a single home run to center has been hit yet.
"It plays pretty deep," Olsen said. "Big alleys, lots of advertising."
As the Mets returned home for their second homestand, a crowd of 40,522 showed up on a warm evening, the largest since the April 13 opener at the $800 million ballpark.
Unlike the Yankees, the Mets' premium seats behind home plate were mostly filled, although they have far fewer and at much lower prices. Just 34 of the 92 Delta Club Platinum seats in the first two rows were occupied in the first inning but about 80-85 percent filled by the third. The top price was $295 for the first "value" game of the season, down from $695 for the opener and $595 for the remaining games on the first homestand, which were classified "gold."
At the Yankees, a majority of the 1,895 premium seats that cost $500-$2,625 were empty for the final five games of their opening six-game homestand.
The Mets had been the only team in the majors not to face a left-handed starter before batting against Olsen (0-3), who gave up three runs - two earned - and nine hits in six innings.
Right-handed-hitting Gary Sheffield was inserted into right field and Tatis into left.
New York went ahead in the third when Luis Castillo singled and Beltran tripled on a liner to center in which Elijah Dukes tried for a shoestring catch only to have the ball roll past him to the warning track. The play originally was scored a single and an error, then was changed.
Castillo added an RBI single in the fourth to make it 2-0, the Mets' first hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Johnson's opposite-field drive leading off the sixth, just over the wall, ended Santana's streak of 17 scoreless innings and 19 in a row without an earned run since opening day. With two outs and none on, Santana struck out Austin Kearns and Flores, then retired Alberto Gonzalez on a popup.
Tatis' leadoff looper in the sixth bounced past Kearns into the right-field corner, and pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy singled for a 3-1 lead on a sinking liner that Kearns again failed to catch with a dive. Kip Wells walked Carlos Delgado with the bases loaded in the eighth.
"Kearns plays hard, but he knows better than that," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "It's time for our defense to step it up, and the bullpen to do its job."
Notes: The cast and crew of ABC's "Ugly Betty" recorded scenes during the game in the 11th row behind the plate and the Taste of the City food court behind center field. ... Mets C Ramon Castro dropped Dukes' foul pop in the sixth for an error. ... Detroit assistant GM John Westhoff presented Sheffield with a crystal sculpture in honor of his 500th HR last week.
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