Terry Collins marveled at what he witnessed from Johan Santana.
His No. 1 starter was on the mound for the first time in his tenure as Mets manager, living up to the moniker of an ace.
“I was talking to [bench coach] Bob Geren and I said, ‘This guy just never gives in to anybody.’ He doesn’t care what the situation is. It’s amazing to me,” Collins said about Santana after the Mets’ 1-0 Opening Day win over the Braves at Citi Field Thursday.
Santana threw five innings in his first start in 580 days. He finished by allowing just two hits and two walks. Santana’s last start came in a 4-2 win in Atlanta on Sept. 2, 2010. Eight days later, the organization announced that the left-hander had sustained a torn left anterior capsule of the left shoulder.
He missed all of last season as he recuperated from the surgery.
“I’m happy. Finally I have an opportunity to go out there in a game that counts. It was very important and it was good,” Santana said. “All the hard work that we put together — trainers, coaches, everybody — down in Port St. Lucie all the way here, it was huge. I’m very happy everything paid off.”
Collins said before the game that he and pitching coach Dan Warthen agreed that the maximum amount of pitches they would allow Santana to throw would be 100, before estimating that the lefty’s pitch count would be “somewhere between 85 and 95.” He finished with 84 pitches.
Uncertainty about the life on Santana’s fastball was a primary topic throughout spring training. Against the Braves, Santana was able to use his fastball, slider and change-up effectively as he struck out five.
The only time he got in trouble was the fifth inning. With two outs in a scoreless game, he had loaded the bases. Braves centerfielder Michael Bourn got ahead in the count 3-1 before Santana responded with a fastball strike at the knees. He then induced Bourn to an inning-ending 1-3 ground out.
Threat over. Inning over. Day over.
“I told him he was done. I think he was caught up in the adrenaline flow [so] I walked down to the end of the bench and I said, ‘You did a great job.’ He said, “No, I have another [inning] in me,’” Collins said of the discussion after he pulled Santana. “I said, ‘Yeah, I know. That’s enough for today.’ That’s what he is.”
Santana confirmed the manager’s version of their discussion.
“I felt good. When you’re out there, you don’t think about how many pitches you got or how you feel. I felt like I could go out there for one more, but that wasn’t the case. I think it was a great decision. We won the game. That’s the most important thing,” Santana said. “He [made] the right call.”
Follow Mets beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.