PHILADELPHIA -- When Cole Hamels stepped in the batter's box against the much ballyhooed pitching deity, Johan Santana, he knew. "I realized why he's the type of pitcher he is," said Hamels, the pitching prodigy who struck out twice against Santana. "The electric fastball, the slider you can't see and..." Oh yeah, the changeup. All offerings were on tantalizing display at Citizens Bank Park in a crucial -- for April -- opener of a three-game series. The Phillies received an unfavorable look from the Mets' ace, and New York escaped with a 6-4 win.
That seemingly high final score notwithstanding, the Hamels-Santana marquee matchup held up for the 45,156 who paid to witness it. Many lined up in the afternoon, and no stroll through the parking lot was compete without a barb from a fan in a different jersey. A city with its professional hockey and basketball teams in the postseason embraced a Phillies team many feel will be there in October and came to see the Mets' hot shot acquisition. "The buzz round the city [is palpable]," Hamels said. "I went out and had lunch and you can kind of sense it." Refusing to allow the hype of this matchup affect him, Hamels surrendered a first-inning run when Ryan Church scored on a double by David Wright, the first of his four hits. The Mets' All-Star third baseman, who entered the game 1-for-11 against Hamels, stroked a triple for the second run. "He made great adjustments," said Hamels, who was well aware of the numbers. "He had those four hits, I think. He had a lot. He's an All-Star. He's always going to be a great hitter. I know I've had success against him. He just evened the odds." With the All-Star driving in runs for the Mets, Santana, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, sliced through a lineup that produced 10 runs and 16 hits a day earlier against the Astros. With all due respect to Brandon Backe, Santana is in a different league. "There definitely isn't much [margin of error]," said Hamels. "He's always going to be able to have success. When you go into a game, you know it's going to be low-scoring and you hope you're on the right side of it. He has [such] phenomenal stuff that he can get away with mistakes." Santana didn't make many during a no-walk, 10-strikeout performance that included one hit allowed and nine of those 10 whiffs through his first six innings. Chase Utley began the seventh by sending a fastball into the Phillies' bullpen, proving that Santana, can in fact, bleed. By the eighth, the National League's two best lefties had departed, and relievers J.C. Romero and Aaron Heilman transformed the game into something much more offensive. The Mets led, 2-1, entering the eighth when Church singled and went to third on a double by Wright. That prompted an intentional walk from Hamels to Carlos Beltran and an exit after 102 pitches. Romero allowed all three runners to score, on two hits. Heilman returned the favor after the Philadelphia clanged two singles to start the bottom of the eighth against Santana. Heilman served up a three-run pinch-hit homer to Greg Dobbs. While only one of the runs was charged to Santana, his ERA against the Phillies rose to 8.10. The Mets scored a key insurance off Brad Lidge in the ninth, and former Phillies closer Billy Wagner recorded the save. "I think Johan knows we're not asking him to go out there and throw nine innings, we're just asking him to throw 8 2/3," Wagner joked. Santana allowed four hits and three runs over seven-plus innings, while Hamels allow eight and five runs (four earned) over seven-plus innings. Advantage, Santana. "He mixed his pitches well," Utley said. "He hit the corners extremely well. He was tough. [Hamels and Santana] are the game's best." "[Santana's] one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues," Phillies outfielder So Taguchi said. So good that many of the experts immediately awarded the NL East crown to the Mets on the day Santana was acquired, despite the fact that the Phillies won it in 2007. The Mets have the early lead, taking three of the first four contests between the teams. When a pitcher of Santana's magnitude takes the mound, do hitters get more up for them? "When I was a player, we used to talk all the time and I see [Rod] Carew, [Tony] Oliva, the better the pitcher, the more that they got up for it," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. "I've heard guys say they'd rather get one hit off a real good pitcher than two off a mediocre one." In the end, the word mediocre didn't fit what happened while Hamels and Santana traded blows. While Santana won round one, Hamels is unfazed. "Some things caught up with me tonight," Hamels said. "I definitely showed my emotions on the field, dropping my head a few times going, 'How did that happen?' But I'll see these guys again, and I'll make the adjustments."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.