LOS ANGELES -- Terry Collins sat alone at a podium at Yankee Stadium earlier this month, fighting back tears. Within the span of a week, he had allowed his best, most fragile pitcher to throw 134 pitches in a game, then perhaps overcompensated by giving Johan Santana too many extra days of rest. Believing he had damaged Santana, Collins prayed only that the damage was not irreversible.
It was not. Over his last three starts, Santana has risen back to elite levels, following up two quality starts with Saturday's gem: eight innings, three hits and no runs in a 5-0 victory over the Dodgers. Santana flirted with the Mets' third one-hitter in a month for most of the afternoon, before settling for the team's fourth consecutive win following four straight losses.
"I just think that no-hitter took a little starch out of him, a little energy out of him," Collins said. "His command wasn't the same. His velocity was fine. His changeup was fine. He just didn't command it."
Saturday, Santana dominated by showcasing perhaps his best fastball command since the no-hitter. After Dodgers leadoff man Dee Gordon singled and stole second in the first inning, Santana stranded Gordon there and did not allow another hit until Scott Van Slyke's clean single to lead off the eighth. Tony Gwynn followed that up with a one-out single for L.A.'s third hit, but Santana induced two consecutive groundouts to squelch the Dodgers' best scoring threat.
With the effort, he put himself on the fringe of All-Star consideration on the eve of selection Sunday. The left-hander's 2.76 ERA ranks 11th in the National League. His 93 strikeouts are 11th.
"If I get the call, that would be great," Santana said. "If not, I'll rest and get ready to start it all over again."
Though Dodgers starter Nathan Eovaldi was nearly as sharp early, Ike Davis put the game out of reach with a booming three-run homer to center field in the sixth. Seven of Davis' 11 home runs this year have plated at least three runs, giving him 45 RBIs to supplement a .203 batting average. Bizarre numbers, yes, though 24 of those RBIs have come in June, along with eight doubles and 14 walks.
"It just shows that I'm at least doing something," Davis said. "I did something right. I continue to have good at-bats and my average will hopefully go up."
The Mets need such production from Davis and Lucas Duda, considering Los Angeles is just the latest team hesitant of pitching to David Wright. After Wright homered in Thursday's series opener, the Dodgers intentionally walked him in key spots Friday and Saturday. Each time, the Mets made them pay.
"If we're going to succeed, that's how we're going to do it, by somebody else coming through when we need him," Collins said. "We've ridden the David Wright horse a lot. If they're going to pitch around him, those guys in the middle have got to start doing damage and they've done it. And that's why we've won some baseball games recently."
The Mets plated their first run off Eovaldi when Davis doubled to lead off the second inning, scoring on Daniel Murphy's sacrifice fly. Then they recycled that blueprint in the fifth, with Murphy's leadoff double resulting in Josh Thole's sac fly.
"Every mistake I made," Eovaldi said, "they really capitalized on it."
Facing an offense plugging along without star outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, it was more than enough support for Santana, who is now a full month removed from his 134-pitch no-hitter. That night, Collins bemoaned the decision to let Santana finish the game, fewer than 21 months after surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder.
A week later, after shuffling his rotation and giving Santana two extra days of rest to compensate, Collins berated himself when his ace struggled at Yankee Stadium. It only grew worse; following his no-no, Santana submitted two of his poorest -- and shortest -- outings in back-to-back starts.
But he has responded with three consecutive strong outings, giving up a total of two runs and 12 hits in 20 innings. In short, he has impressed. As the lefty warmed in the Dodger Stadium bullpen prior to Saturday's start, pitching coach Dan Warthen turned to Collins and told him to imagine what Santana might have looked like back in his Cy Young days, when he used to throw his fastball in the mid-90s.
"I cannot even believe how good he was," Collins said. "Because he's real good now."