How confident would you feel if Mike Pelfrey was your ace? This is the thought destined to haunt the Mets long after another series loss to the Philadelphia Phillies is forgotten.

Forget this fanciful notion that Johan Santana needs to be the equal of Roy Halladay — Santana hasn’t been that good since 2004. That’s equivalent to declaring Celtics forward Kevin Garnett needs to be as good as the Cavs’ LeBron James in their second-round series. Um, yeah, not happening.

What the Mets desperately need Johan to be is a surer thing than Pelfrey. Right now, no one can even say that with conviction. Was watching Pelfrey give up six runs in the fourth inning on Saturday much different than seeing Santana surrender eight runs in the fourth inning on Sunday?


If anything Pelfrey’s beating seemed a little less legit. Johan more than earned his shellacking with that bases-loaded walk of the ageless Jamie Moyer, that fat pitch to Shane Victorino and a general attitude of not-wanting-to-be-there that almost mimicked Tiger Woods’ sudden weekend-off mannerisms.

Sports icons, particularly pitchers who don’t go on a Roger Clemens’ magic-needle program, age faster than Benjamin Button. And they’re going in a completely different kind of reverse.

With Santana’s fastball velocity down, he’s getting talked about like he’s Pedro Martinez, the Mets version. Only, Johan is getting paid near CC?Sabathia money, and he’s only 31.

It’s more than a little early for this ace to be turning to guile. What’s next? Jerry Manuel starts waxing poetic about what a great pinch-hitter Jason Bay is going to be one day?

The Mets have willed themselves into the NL East race, but there’s a sense the Phillies can still run away it whenever they wish. Santana is still their biggest media star, still their most compelling figure, still their most certain must-watch guy. That’s all well and good, but remember, pitchers often remain media stars for several seasons after they’ve stopped being superstars on the mound.

This is the same reality that has NFL players getting selected to the Pro Bowl a year or two after they really deserved it. This is why LeBron will probably finally get that unanimous league MVP award he deserves just when he loses a step.

Santana is still expected to be one of the top five pitchers in the game, when in reality he’s closer to being merely one of the top 15. It’s a drop the Mets need to acknowledge if they really want to contend the rest of the way.

Does it present a delicate political situation? Certainly. Santana can never admit his step back to himself, let alone anybody else.

Pretending that a dominant force from 2004 is going to suddenly appear, expecting Johan to go Roy is only a futile fantasy.

– Chris Baldwin covers the sports media for Metro

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