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DOWN THE LINE

No hits, but quite a few pitches

Nolan Ryan once threw 245 pitches in a game. Little wonder, then, that the only man to throw seven no-hitters was not alarmed that Johan Santana threw a career-high 134 pitches in his no-hitter Friday.

To Ryan, a no-hitter is not the time to start obsessing over a pitch count.

“I never think about that, no,” Ryan said.

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The New York Mets are paying Santana $24 million this season, $25.5 million next season. He sat out all of last season after major shoulder surgery.

“It tells you how well he’s come back from his surgery,” Ryan said.

Santana had not thrown more than 108 pitches this season. Mets Manager Terry Collins confessed he could be haunted by the decision to let Santana go for the no-hitter after the pitcher said he felt fine.

“In five days, if his arm is bothering him, I’m not going to feel very good,” Collins said.

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If Santana so much as trips on a sunflower seed, Collins will be blamed for the high pitch count. The Chicago White Sox were criticized for letting former first-round pick Chris Sale throw a career-high 115 pitches last week, in part because he previously missed a start because of a sore elbow.

“We’re in the American League,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re not in Little League. But nevertheless, people that bring up pitch counts are people who have nothing else to really know. And it just blows me away.

“They’re doing that to say, ‘God forbid if someone goes down, I told you so.’ And these are people that are not in the arena and never really played, so what kind of validity does any of that hold?”

Reeling in a contender

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The Miami Marlins are looking less like a reality show and more like a major league team these days. The Marlins, fueled by a gaudy Art Deco ballpark, spent $191 million last winter on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

Then the season started. Manager Ozzie Guillen said he respected Cuban leader Fidel Castro, triggering pickets at the ballpark and calls for his firing. The Marlins fell into last place by the end of April, when Giancarlo Stanton hit one home run. Bell blew four of his first seven saves as his earned-run average rose above 11.00.

Guillen said he would shut up. And now look: Stanton hit 12 home runs in May, Bell has converted seven consecutive saves, the Marlins are a game out of first place, and Guillen is talking again -- this time about Buehrle, who he said would be his Game 1 starter if the playoffs started now.

“If that kid was pitching for the New York Yankees, he would be the ace,” Guillen said. “But he’s pitching for the White Sox and the Marlins, who cares.”

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Making the most of opportunity

The addition of a second wild-card team in each league means that a third-place team might win the World Series. If the playoffs had opened Saturday, the third-place team in the NL East would have qualified, and the third-place team in the AL East would have been tied for the final wild-card spot.

This is sacrilege, of course. What kind of upstanding pro sports league would let a third-place team emerge as its champion?

As the Stanley Cup Final captures the imagination of Los Angeles, good luck to the Kings -- the third-place team in the NHL Pacific Division.

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-- Bill Shaikin


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