NEW YORK — Stephen Strasburg wants to be treated like one of the guys: with no limits on his pitching.
The 23-year-old phenom got his wish Wednesday.
The Washington Nationals let their young ace go past 100 pitches for the first time in the major leagues and he worked his way out of a two-on, one out jam in the sixth inning of a one-run ballgame Wednesday.
“I was going to hold him to 100 pitches but I didn’t know who to go to to get out of the jam,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said after a 4-0 victory over the New York Mets. “I probably would’ve had to strangle him to get the ball to get him out of the game.”
Strasburg threw 108 pitches in outlasting Johan Santana for six innings in a marquee matchup of aces on the mend, and the Nationals’ bullpen made the lead stand up on the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ first game.
Meeting in a blustery, chilly matinee, Strasburg (1-0) and Santana got off to an erratic start but settled into a duel between pitchers coming back from major arm operations.
Strasburg allowed two hits and struck out nine in helping the Nationals take the final two games of the three-game series against their division rival with stellar pitching — Ross Detwiler shut down the Mets on Tuesday night.
Strasburg threw 99 pitches in his eighth big league start in July 2010, when his callup to the big leagues captivated baseball, but he had elbow ligament-replacement surgery two months later and missed almost all of 2011. He is being kept on an innings limit of about 160 this season.
“By no means in the back of my head was I thinking, ‘How many pitches was I at?’” he said. I wanted to go out there and keep the team in the ballgame as long as I could.”
Santana (0-1) allowed five hits in five-plus innings but his wild pitch gave Washington a 1-0 lead in the second inning of a game that lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes. New York had only three hits and Mets pitchers combined to walk 10 and hit one batter.
Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez each pitched a scoreless inning for a Nationals’ bullpen that is without closer Drew Storen (elbow).
New York’s bullpen gave up two bases-loaded walks and an RBI grounder to Chad Tracy in the eighth. By that time, much of the announced crowd of 34,614 had left.
The 33-year-old Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, was making just his second start in 19 months after left shoulder surgery. His operation was about two weeks after Strasburg’s in September 2010.
Santana’s fastball was clocked at about the same speed (a high of 90 mph, reached once) as the 23-year-old phenom’s changeup (89 mph). Strasburg’s fastball peaked at 98 mph.
Strasburg gave up a single to his first batter, Ruben Tejada, and walked Daniel Murphy in a frustrating 26-pitch first inning. After starting the second with a walk, he found better command of his curveball and went on a run of retiring 10 in a row until hitting Ronny Cedeno with a pitch with one out in the fifth.
“I was really concerned early because he was pitching backward. He was using a lot of changeups, back-to-back changeups, curveballs, even cutting his fastball,” Johnson said. “He got straightened out in the third inning and started pitching like he can.”
Said Strasburg: “I have four out pitches. It’s just a matter of commanding them.”
Ike Davis singled in the sixth to end an 0-for-18 start. That was just the second hit for the Mets, who wore their white uniforms instead of their traditional pinstripes for the anniversary game.
Santana needed 27 pitches to get through the first. In the second, he bounced a slider in front of the plate that went to the backstop, allowing Mark DeRosa to score. DeRosa singled leading off the inning and had gone to third on Xavier Nady’s single to right.
Santana retired nine in a row, striking out four straight at one point before allowing back-to-back hits in the fifth.
“I’m very happy at this stage,” Mets manager Terry Collins said, “and five days from now you’ll see him again.”
Despite having thrown 93 pitches through five innings, Santana was allowed to bat with a runner on first and one out. He struck out.
Santana then walked Jayson Werth with his 99th pitch — 56 were strikes — leading off the sixth. He was lifted for Manny Acosta.
“I was able to compete and I feel good,” Santana said. “I told (Collins) I felt good and he let me go back out there. I didn’t come through, but at least I was able to warm up and come back out again. So that’s a good sign.”
NOTES: Roger Craig threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Craig started the Mets’ opener in 1962 at St. Louis, an 11-4 loss. … Collins was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Larry Vanover in the seventh inning. … The Mets drew 197,672 for their first homestand this year, up from 184,429 for their first six home games last year. … Johnson had no new information on Storen (elbow) and slugger Michael Morse (back). He said tests on Morse, who had a setback in a minor league rehab game, were sent to Dr. James Andrews. Johnson wasn’t certain if Storen went to see Andrews or whether his tests were sent to the esteemed orthopedist. … Collins said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 3B David Wright (broken pinkie finger) in the lineup Friday.