Last Friday at Citi Field, a majority of Johan Santana’s 134 pitches in his no-hitter could be described as smooth.
In his follow-up start, two swings Robinson Cano took off him can be described the same way.
Cano hit two of the team’s four home runs against Santana as the Yankees cruised to a 9-1 victory over the Mets in the opener of the Subway Series last night.
Cano helped turn Santana’s first start after his milestone into a disappointment for the Mets and their fans who bought tickets. He recorded his eighth career two home run game and first since April 29, 2011.
Even more noteworthy was that Cano did it off a left-handed pitcher coming off a no-hitter. Cano had just one home run and was 15-for-75 off lefthanders this season before last night, but he improved those numbers bytwice swinging at the first pitch.
“It’s a long season,” Cano said. “You’re going to get 600 at-bats and you’re not going to be successful every at-bat. Those are the kind of the things that are going to make you stronger because you got to figure it out, what’s wrong and every time you face a lefty just forget about what you saw and just go out there and get a hit.”
So when Santana’s first slider to Cano hung over the middle of the plate long enough for a smooth swing, that is exactly what the second baseman did. Seconds later, the pitch was launched into the right field seats for a 2-0 lead with nobody out in the second inning.
“I’ve got to be lucky to be successful against a guy like him,” Cano said. “He threw a no-hitter in his last start and lefty against lefty -- he’s got to throw his changeup too.”
Santana did not get a chance to see if he could throw an effective changeup to Cano. With two outs in the third, he left a fastball up in the strike zone and the pitch was crushed into the second deck.
“You’re going to go through tough outings,” Santana said. “It was just one of those days. I know there were lot of expectations and waiting for tonight.”
It seemed like the Yankee bats also were waiting to face Santana, who was pitching on six days rest. They followed Cano’s home run by getting consecutive home runs from Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones.
“If you get a pitch to hit, you better hit it, because lately he hasn’t been making a whole lot of mistakes,” manager Joe Girardi said. “In his career he hasn’t made a whole lot of mistakes. Robby jumped on a high fastball; he jumped on his slider. The thing is that he was off a little bit tonight and our guys took advantage of it.”
Santana allowed four home runs in a game for the fourth time in his career and third time as a Met. It also marked the first time he gave up three straight home runs and the first time a Met gave up three straight home runs since John Maine in Los Angeles five years ago.
Santana actually pitched stronger in his final two innings, but the four home runs left manager Terry Collins disappointed and willing to blame himself for the giving his ace extra days.
“For all the people that thought I made the right decision a week ago, because of that decision, I thought he needed the extra rest and I'm responsible for the results,” Collins said.
While the home runs were a nice development for the Yankees, seeing Hiroki Kuroda leave after seven brilliant innings with a left foot contusion was not. Kuroda was seen on crutches in the clubhouse after Daniel Murphy’s pop-up hit him in the foot.
“I insisted on going back out to the mound, but the head trainer told me not to go,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “And I thought about it and I really wanted to go, but thinking about the next start, I thought it was a good idea that I rested.”
Before getting hit it seemed that Kuroda was going to duplicate Santana’s feat. He retired the first 10 hitters he faced before a Derek Jeter error in the fourth and then retired the next five before Omar Quintanilla doubled to left-center field with two outs in the fifth.
“He had great command of his slider and curveball,” Girardi said. His fastball was really effective. He had a lot of jam shot ground balls. He moved his fastball up and down. He pitched. We talked about Hiroki when we got him; that’s what we expected. This guy knows how to pitch and that’s what he did today.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.