New York Mets left-hander Johan Santana knows how difficult it is to duplicate quality starts and is living proof that not everything is guaranteed to go smoothly.
Unless, of course, your name is R.A. Dickey.
While Santana set the bar high for the rest of the New York rotation with the first no-hitter in franchise history almost two weeks ago, it is now his turn to follow a dynamite performance from Dickey in this afternoon's finale of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Dickey allowed one hit -- an infield single to B.J. Upton which will be appealed by the Mets -- in a 9-1 win and set a franchise-record with 32 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, passing Jerry Koosman's 39-year-old mark by one frame. Koosman set the previous record of 31 2/3 scoreless frames back in 1973. Dickey struck out 12 Rays and walked zero batters to win his major league-leading 10th win of the season (10-1).
"We were two plays from a perfect game," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "I've seen a lot of games, but I've never seen a perfecto."
The play in question for the Mets was when Upton reached on an infield single after third baseman David Wright bobbled a barehanded try. The play had no meaning at that point until the end of Dickey's great start.
"We said in the ninth inning that we've got to appeal that play. We're probably not going to win it, but ... what the heck? What do you got to lose except to have somebody say no?" Collins said. "You've just got to give him his due. He deserves it."
Daniel Murphy, Omar Quintanilla and Wright each knocked in a pair of runs for the Mets, who will shoot for a sweep of Tampa Bay today and won for the third time in the last nine games. The Mets, whose starting pitchers own a 12-4 record in the past 21 games, are tied with Atlanta at five games off the lead in the National league East.
Meanwhile, Santana, two starts removed from the first no-hitter in franchise history, will try to bounce back into the win column today. Santana needed 134 pitches and a few extra days rest following his second shutout of the season versus St. Louis on June 1.
The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner received seven days to get back on the hill and probably wished he hadn't in Friday's 9-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. Santana allowed six runs and seven hits, including four home runs, and surrendered three long balls in a row at one point.
"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."
Santana, who was 3-0 in eight starts before his Bronx bombing, will get back to his five-day stretch of work Thursday and is 3-3 with a 2.96 earned run average in 12 starts. He is 0-2 in five road starts and owns a 3-3 record to go along with a 2.75 ERA in 12 career games (8 starts) against Tampa Bay.
After Thursday's game, the Mets will head home for a nine-game residency versus the Reds, Orioles and Yankees.
Tampa Bay will try to avoid the sweep and has lost back-to-back games since a four-game winning streak.
Upton had the only hit of the game for now last night, while staff ace David Price was beat up in five innings of work. Price permitted seven runs and nine hits in five innings to fall to 8-4 on the season.
"I didn't have my best fastball today, so I had to use my other stuff," Price said on the Rays' website. "That's what I did and was in control for the first couple innings, and it spun out of control there in the fifth and the sixth. I have to do a better job."
Rays outfielder/first baseman Luke Scott hasn't been in the starting lineup since June 5 and last played Friday at Miami because of a stiff back. He is day-to-day and batting .220 with nine homers and 35 RBI. Outfielder/second baseman Ben Zobrist hasn't appeared in a game since Sunday because of soreness in his hand after being hit by a ball. He is also battling an illness for Tampa Bay, which will welcome the Marlins to the Trop over the weekend.
Zobrist is hitting .223 with eight home runs and 25 RBI this season.
The Rays are two games behind the New York Yankees for the AL East lead, with Baltimore sitting a game off the pace in second.
Tampa Bay is counting on Jeremy Hellickson to get back to form when he toes the rubber in today's series finale. Hellickson is just 0-2 with a 2.42 ERA in his last four starts and lasted only 4 1/3 frames for a no-decision in Friday's 5-1 win at Miami. He gave up only a run, but walked seven batters.
"Helly had really good stuff, but the command just wasn't there on any of his pitches," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Fastball, 92, 93 [mph], some really good changeups, but the location was not there. Good velocity on the hook, but the overall location was not there."
Hellickson is 4-2 in 12 starts with a 2.65 ERA this season and has allowed more than three runs only once this season. The righty has made seven starts at home this season, going 3-2 with a 1.59 ERA, and has never faced the Mets.
New York and Tampa Bay are wrapping up their first series since the Rays won two of three meetings back in 2009. The Rays have been outscored by a lopsided 20-3 margin over the first two portions of this current set.