Santana still among best in game

DAN TOMAN. Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET

TORONTO -- In what's been an exceptional year for pitching in the majors, one of the game's greatest has been surprisingly absent from the party.

Apparently Johan Santana didn't get the invitation to the Cy Young soiree that a handful of pitchers in the National League have been getting dolled up for all season long.

Instead, for perhaps the greatest left-hander of his generation not named Randy Johnson, the only list Santana finds himself on is the disabled one.

That's not to say the New York Mets ace has been a "slouch" in the words of Darrelle Revis but rather a pitiful club and dreadful run support have overshadowed what's been, in some respects, one of the lefty's best seasons in years.

And it comes at a time when critics and fantasy baseball junkies have never been so quick to write off the two-time Cy Young winner for what's been perceived as a career on the decline.

However, following successful shoulder surgery on Tuesday, it's clear the Mets' 20 million dollar man is entering the most challenging phase of his career.

While pitchers such as Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos and even Tim Hudson - an outstanding arm all but left for dead following Tommy John surgery two years ago - have received all the attention and deservedly so, Santana has been busy putting together a solid season in his third in the blue and orange.

For such a dominant pitcher over the last decade, it's a bit of a mystery as to why the Venezuelan has not received the same accolades he did in the suburbs of baseball, Minnesota, since making his home in the game's biggest market.

Don't let his 11-9 record fool you, as the 31-year-old posted a career-best four complete games to go along with a stingy 2.98 ERA and solid 1.18 WHIP in 29 starts. All of this, despite the notion that his best years were already showered and in the clubhouse.

In light of recent reports surfacing from the New York Times suggesting Santana may not be fully recovered from the surgery until the 2012 All-Star Game due to the invasiveness of the procedure, Dr. Craig Levitz, chairman and chief of orthopedic surgery at South Nassau Hospital on Long Island had this to say:

"If you can't get to it, you have to open it up, and it's less desirable when it's done that way," Levitz told the Times. "Anytime you open the shoulder, you have to make cuts in the tissue, and that causes scarring. So it does make you worry a little more, but you still expect him to do fairly well."

Fairly well? Not exactly the answer Mets' brass was looking for regarding a pitcher who had the lowest ERA (2.92) and third most strikeouts (1152) among all pitchers since the start of 2003 through the end of 2009 (minimum 150 starts).

Of course, anyone in a stone's-throw distance of the Mets and Santana's camp are dismissing any cause for worry. And with at least $77.5 million remaining on a contract that runs through 2013 (with a club option for 2014), they better be singing a tune of optimism.

This is the lefty's third straight year going under the knife (knee and elbow) amidst periodic reports of diminished velocity, but a closer look at the numbers tells another story.

As far as durability's concerned, well, don't be. Santana's made 88 starts during his three years with the Mets, averaging two starts per year more than he did in his five seasons with the Twins.

Further, his 40-25 record (including his modest mark this year) in the Big Apple is good for a .615 winning percentage, still among the best in the game.

However, in a best-case scenario, the next time Santana's six-foot, 208-pound frame takes to the mound, he'll be another year north of 30, numbers not so kind to pitchers.

And amidst the announcement from fellow countryman Carlos Zambrano, who entered the league a year after Santana, that he plans to retire following the 2012 season, the future has never been more uncertain for one of baseball's most intense competitors.

Regardless, if fans are treated to the same dominant Santana they've grown accustomed to once he returns, he's assured himself of inclusion in at least one list and it's the most exclusive party of all; Cooperstown.


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