Santana's rehab start draws a crowd and a different set of baseballs

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When the New York Mets announced that two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana would make a rehab start for the Savannah Sand Gnats in Game 2 of the South Atlantic League Southern Divisional playoffs, fans (3,413 of them) in Savannah rushed to buy tickets.

And South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa had to buy some baseballs.

Santana’s presence required the use of two types of baseballs in Friday’s game between Savannah and Augusta at Historic Grayson Stadium. The baseballs used in the majors and minors are slightly different.

The usual South Atlantic League baseballs were used when Augusta starter Shawn Sanford took the mound. When Santana pitched, he used baseballs from Major League Baseball. The task of switching out entire sets every half inning was charged to home plate umpire Shane Livensparger.

“It’s not a big difference. You or I or the regular fans couldn’t tell the difference,” Krupa said. “But I’m told a Major League pitcher can tell the difference 10 times out of 10.”

Krup said Major League Baseballs are made in Costa Rica, while South Atlantic League balls are made in China. An umpire on the four-man playoff crew working the first-round series said the big league balls are a little more tightly wound than the minor league balls.

WAITING: In the other South Atlantic League playoff series, the Greensboro Grasshoppers swept the Hickory Crawdads in a battle between North Division champions.

Greensboro scored two runs in the bottom of the 15th to steal a win in Game 1, then took the series on Friday with a 2-0 victory.

It will play host to Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five championship series on Monday and Tuesday.

BIRTHDAY BUST: Phillies 2008 first-round draft pick Zach Collier was suspended Thursday for 50 games by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball for violating the Minor League Prevention and Treatment Program.

Collier, a left-handed outfielder for the South Atlantic League’s Lakewood BlueClaws, hit .255 with 36 RBI and 25 stolen bases this season.

The announcement came on his 21st birthday.

Free agent minor leaguers Alejandro Montas, a right-handed pitcher, and catcher Gustavo Parra were also suspended 50 games for testing positive for Stanozolol. A report from MiLB.com said the free agents’ suspensions won’t begin until they sign with a Major League team.


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