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Sunday, May 23, 2010
Updated: May 24, 9:14 AM ET
Johan could've been right lefty for Yanks

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia spent so much of last spring dreaming about a parade, seeing the delirious masses and fluttering ticker tape over and over in his sleep, that the real November thing left him wedged between an out-of-body experience and a case of déjà vu.

If it was an intoxicating, head-to-toe rush for Sabathia, imagine how Johan Santana felt.

That should've been his pinstriped parade.

No matter how you slice it, the day the Mets traded for Santana was the day the Yankees decided not to trade for Santana and to wait for Sabathia instead.

Brian Cashman could've outbid Omar Minaya if he'd wanted to. He could've delivered Minnesota a package of Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Ian Kennedy and Jeff Marquez and blown away the Mets' winning offer of Philip Humber, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

In fact, if George Steinbrenner were still George Steinbrenner in the wintry wake of 2007, Cashman would've been ordered to do just that, and to sign off on a six-year, $137.5 million contract to boot.

Only The Boss wasn't The Boss anymore when Cashman told the Twins to take their trade and stuff it. The general manager had a healthy respect for Santana's talent and temperament; Cashman just didn't want to surrender a small circle of good young players plus pay a zillion bucks on the back end.

He gambled. He suffered through the Yankees' first playoff-free season in forever, prayed Sabathia would take to his free-agent pitch and, as a prisoner of human nature, privately hoped Santana didn't make him look bad in Queens.

Johan Santana
Johan Santana doesn't let the Yankees forget which team has his services.

Cashman won the bet, along with a World Series ring. He signed Sabathia, watched Hughes develop into an invaluable reliever-turned-invaluable starter, used Marquez in the deal to get Nick Swisher, and turned Cabrera into Javy Vazquez, who, if nothing else, shut down the Mets in Game 1 on Friday.

But Sunday night, with the deciding game of this Subway Series hanging on the left arms tethered to the teams' aces, Santana reminded Cashman and the rest of baseball why the Yanks almost picked him before they picked Sabathia.

He allowed six hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings; Sabathia allowed Jason Bay to hit twice as many home runs as he had in the first 44 games of the season. Blasted by the Yankees for nine runs over three innings in June 2009, Santana reduced the defending champs to amateur-hour hackers this time before retreating to the clubhouse to watch K-Rod drop A-Rod in the most hotly contested duel since Alexander Hamilton went down looking against Aaron Burr.

"I was calm, actually," Santana said.

He was icing his arm and listening to the nerve-wracking prattle in the stands.

"I think a lot of people out there were shaking," the ace said.

Ryota Igarashi gave them reason to shake after he took the mound with a 6-1 lead and before Francisco Rodriguez followed up his five-out save Saturday with a two-out save Sunday at the expense of Alex Rodriguez, who suddenly represented the go-ahead run.

"I trust him 100 percent," Santana said of K-Rod.

Johan trusts himself more.

He kept the ball down, threw a lot of sinkers away and left the Yankees flailing at his changeup. Yes, Santana came to the park ready to pitch. Sabathia didn't just own a 3-1 record against him; CC stands as the only pitcher to beat Santana three times in one season.

The year was 2007, and Cleveland's Sabathia prevailed over Minnesota's Santana on Aug. 3, Aug. 29 and Sept. 3. Those three decisions over a single month were among the many reasons Cashman waited for Sabathia.

"We had some good matchups," Santana said, "and I used to watch him a bunch of times over in Minnesota. … He's competitive, he's very aggressive, and he's very good. I knew coming in that it was going to be a tough challenge, but I was prepared for it."

So prepared, in fact, that the Yanks left Citi Field wondering which New York team was supposed to be suffering a crisis of faith. The Mets beat the Yankees' hottest pitcher (Hughes) on Saturday night, then beat their best pitcher (Sabathia) on Sunday night.

"It's a win, it's all good," Mets owner Jeff Wilpon said as he retreated from a few advancing reporters, retreated from the Jerry Manuel-is-the-man statement he didn't care to make.

If nothing else, Santana gave the manager, the owner and the franchise a little breathing room heading into the Philly series. Even if it was his fourth straight start lasting at least seven innings, Santana hadn't won a decision since April 27.

"I knew that was a very dangerous team," he said of the Yankees.

A very dangerous team that nearly made a very bold move to acquire him.

"I was always open to coming here to New York to either team," Santana said. "I don't even know what happened between those two teams, but the reality is I'm with the New York Mets and I'm very happy to be here."

Sabathia? He's far more thrilled to be a Yank. He owns a bigger contract ($161 million) than Santana's and, of course, owns a championship ring.

Cashman made a recruiting visit to Sabathia's California home, sold New York hard and closed the deal by promising CC his smile would light up the city.

As predicted, CC Sabathia has lived very large in the Bronx. But on Sunday night, in a less prosperous corner of Queens, Johan Santana finally got to rain on CC's parade.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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