Friday evening, I had to attend a Little League meeting. Really, all I wanted to do was stay home and watch the game. That’s what I like to do on a Friday evening.
As the meeting dragged on… blah, blah, blah, I peeked at my At Bat app on my smart phone. There was no score at the end of two innings. Of course the game I am referring to was the Mets vs. the Cardinals, opener of a four game set.
Johan Santana walked two in the second and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinal starter, had walked one. The next time I looked, Santana got through the third one-two-three. The meeting ended (thank God) so on the way home of course I listened to the game on the radio. By now the Mets had come up in the fourth. Santana had walked another in the top of the fourth but up to this point, the Cardinals had not threatened.
Jim Duquette, filling in for Josh Lewin, provided the play by play over WFAN as Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled then David Wright doubled. Every time you turn around, David Wright is hitting a double, at least it seems. Lucas Duda put the Mets on top with a fly ball to right field. Nieuwenhuis scored as Wright moved to third. Then Daniel Murphy tripled and Duquette fumbled for words as Murph rounded the bases with Wright scoring. But I am not about to get on Duquette’s case. Today he is donating one of his kidney’s to his daughter who lost function in both of hers a year ago. Now that is one dedicated father. He earns some slack.
The Mets led 2-0. I got home in the top of the 5th and immediately turned on SNY, sat down, and watched the game. Santana walked another. Geez I thought, not one of Santana’s better performances. He already had walked four. But then he struck out the next two and got Rafael Furcal to line out to left. As Gary Cohen summed up the inning heading into the commercial I noticed the Cardinals had no hits through five.
It was the first time during the evening the thought crossed my mind. You know the thought I am referring to. If you are a Mets fan you do.
I have had this thought, as most Mets fans have, for a very long time. In the fifty years of the New York Mets, no pitcher every threw a no-hitter. There have been thirty-five one hitters, some very memorable like Seaver’s near perfecto in July 1969 and Bobby Jones division series clincher in 2000. Many took one-hitters late into the game but Seaver was the only Met pitcher to ever bring a n0-hitter into the 9th only to give up a hit. He did it on three occasions.
So was it to be on this night, a night when the stadium was half filled and Santana clearly did not have his best stuff. Likely not, at least I thought.
In the sixth, Carlos Beltran led off and hit a shot down the line. The umpire called the ball foul. Beltran then grounded out to Wright. It was not until the replay that the boys in the booth took notice. The ball hit the foul line, at least the edge of it. Beltran’s drive was fair.
After Wright threw out Beltran, Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo (former Met) argued with third base umpire Adrian Johnson. At regular speed it was hard to tell but no question in slow-mo, the call was wrong. Cardinal manager Mike Metheny came out to argue too, more likely to protect Oquendo from getting tossed. Okay folks, bad calls are made, especially on a play like that which happened in a split second–time to move on. Still a lot of time left for the Cardinals to score or even get a hit. However, when the top of the sixth ended, Johan Santana officially had not given up one yet.
Nieuwenhuis singled then Wright walked to start their half of the sixth. Duda then hit a bomb to right field. Mets 5, Cardinals 0.
Into the seventh now, David Freese, MVP of the 2011 World Series pops up to Ike Davis. Yadier Molina, ugh, the Met killer. Who can ever forget the two run home run he hit in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS off of Aaron Heilman. Ultimately it was the winning hit when the Mets could not rally back in the ninth. Carlos Beltran took that third strike off Adam Wainwright who had started this game against Santana. Ultimately Molina’s homer ended a season that we all thought the Mets would go to the World Series.
Molina did it again. “Damn it” I said out loud. He put a charge in one to left field that surely would be the first hit of the night. Mike Baxter went back… This kid is a great story. He grew up in Queens attending many Mets games with his father. He came up through the Padres system ultimately claimed off waivers by Sandy Alderson. He plays the game hard, the way you would want any baseball player to perform. Baxter is not a superstar but every teams with aspirations of winning a championship needs a Mike Baxter.
Baxter went back, twisting and turning then grabbing Molina’s line drive which looked for sure as if it would end Santana’s bid for history. Baxter crashed into the fence hard. He never let go of the ball. He laid on the warning track in pain, not able to get up. Santana cheered for him from the mound then showed concern hoping his left fielder was okay.
Baxter was walked off the field with the trainer holding his left arm and Terry Collins by his side. It was if Baxter knew something we all didn’t. First it was Beltran’s apparent double incorrectly called a foul ball. Now it was this unbelievable catch, by a true team player, who did not at all care about his personal well being. The only thing that mattered was catching the ball. It was as if Mike Baxter’s sole existence was to be at that place at that time, to catch a ball that preserved the history that was to shortly be. He didn’t fail his teammates, his pitcher, or the fan base. Baxter, hurting, and not sure when he would play again, was an instant hero, writing himself into the annals of Mets lore forever.
Andres Torres went to center as Nieuwenhuis moved to left. Baxter was gone, who knows for how long but the no-hitter was still intact. But who am I kidding. No Met will ever pitch a no-hitter, will they?
Matt Adams grounded out to Ike Davis. The Cardinals still had no hits through seven.
Omar Quintanilla (the thirty-fifth shortstop of the season for the Mets or at least it feels that way) singled followed by a Santana sac bunt. Torres walked. A new pitcher came in but the walks kept on coming as Nieuwenhuis walked and so did Wright. 6-0 Mets. After Duda struck out, Daniel Murphy singled in two more runs. 8-0 Mets.
At this point I was faced with a dilemma. Someone needed to pick up my son from a party he was at. My wife really did not want to go and it was my turn. Okay look, what are the odds of Santana really getting this no-hitter? First off, his pitch count was really high by this point. Gary Cohen had said his pitch count would be no more than 110 or 115. Probably what’s going to happen is someone is going to get a hit and Santana will come right out of the game. And secondly, no Met will ever get a no-hitter. That much I was sure of. With two innings to go, what would be the likelihood? I set my DVR just in case and off I went.
Well at least I would be able to listen to Howie. If I can’t see the game the next best thing would be to listen to Rose describe it. Like Gary Cohen, Howie Rose is a life long Mets fan, just a couple years older than me. He grew up in Queens spending many summer afternoons and evenings in Shea Stadium’s upper deck. Rose is a veritable Mets encyclopedia. His take on the game would be very interesting to hear.
Now on the road, driving to my destination, after two outs in the 8th, Rafael Furcal walked, the fifth walk given up by Santana. Then Beltran hit a soft liner up the middle. Howie’s voice went up a half an octave as I gripped the steering wheel tighter. Howie described how Murphy ran in front of Quintanilla to grab it for the out. Santana had now made it through eight innings without giving up a hit. The Mets went out quietly in the 8th except for a meaningless Quintanilla single. I picked up my son and his friend. My daughter was in the car as well. I explained to them that I wanted quiet while I drove home. History could be in the making. I explained to them how no Met pitcher had ever done what Johan was about to attempt, how he was doing it on a surgically repaired shoulder and to a team with the best offensive stats in the league.
I was focused on two things, driving home safely and listening to the game. You could hear the crowd roaring on the radio. The first Cardinal batter, Matt Holiday, lined one up the middle on the first pitch. As Howie described it I thought for sure it was a hit but then he said that Torres racing in would get to it. He did–one out. The second batter, Allen Craig, lined one to left. Would this be the one to break up the no-hitter? It was hit hard as Howie said but Nieuwenhuis ran toward the line to pick it off–two out.
At this point I incorrectly surmised that no Met had ever gone this far with a no-hitter. I had always thought that the farthest any Mets pitcher ever went was Tom Seaver’s three no-hit bids that ended after eight and a third. But that was not true as I learned later. Seaver actually went eight and two thirds innings on September 4, 1975 when the Cubs’ (yes the Cubs again) Joe Wallis singled to right. But that game went into extra innings because the Mets could not score and ultimately Seaver did not even get a decision. Skip Lockwood gave up a run in the 11th. The Mets lost 1-0.
So to this point Santana had come as far as the “Franchise”. Johan instantly became the second man trying to do something no pitcher of this franchise had ever done. Santana had to face David Freese, the MVP of the 2011 World Series. Johan got him to a full count. I was driving not believing it would happen, still thinking Freese would break it up. Then it happened. Howie told the radio audience that Santana moved to the third base side of the rubber, that he’s in the windup… “Swung on and missed! Strike three! He’s done it! Johan Santana has pitched a no-hitter, in the eight-thousand and twentieth game in the history of the New York Mets. They finally have a no-hitter, and who better to do it then Johan Santana.” Freese swung and missed on a change up. Rose’s call was classic. I screamed in the car. Thankfully I did not drive off the road. A Met has finally pitched a no-hitter. I could not believe it. In some ways I still can’t.
Sure, Beltran’s drive down the line should have been a hit. But it was called foul. Yadier Molina’s drive to the wall should have broken it up back in the sixth. It didn’t because Mike Baxter sacrificed six weeks of his baseball life. Santana was not as perfect as Tom Seaver was for 25 batters the night of July 9th, 1969 but he was good enough. 134 pitches on a surgically repaired shoulder. The first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets. It is the stuff of a Hollywood script.
When I got home, I watched all the post game coverage on SNY and ping ponged back and forth to MLB Network to see their coverage as well. When it was all done, I watched the 9th inning that I had recorded to hear Cohen’s call. I couldn’t get enough of that special evening, an evening that started out like any other tired Friday night. Who would have guessed something so magical would happen for all Mets fandom, for the organization that has been under such scrutiny and fire for five years now.
Hopefully Santana will be okay. No way was he suppose to throw so many pitches, not on that shoulder that was reconstructed not quite two years ago. Hopefully the fact that he threw so many change ups and doesn’t throw his fastball as hard as he use to will not mean too much in regard to those nineteen extra pitches he had to throw.
There have been over two hundred and fifty no hitters (including perfect games) in Major League history. Somehow this one, the Mets first, seems like the best. Of course I am biased. But unless you are a Mets fan, you cannot truly understand what Friday night’s game means to us. This is a franchise that historically has had much more futility then success. But it is also a team that has had so many special and magical moments. The Mets won a World Series before ever winning a season opening game. There were the great catches in the 1969 series, the magical run of 1973, the two game sixes in 1986, the grand slam single, and on and on. So it’s fitting that controversy surrounds the no-hitter. The Beltran line drive should have been a hit, the fact that Molina hit the ball that Baxter robbed, that the starting pitcher was Adam Wainwright. These are things that will make Mets fans talk about this first no-hitter for years to come.
The Mets never do anything like other teams. There is always something magical when the Mets are involved. Last Friday night was pure magic.