It poured last night, and even if that smudge on the left field line was rubbed out, nothing could wash away what Johan Santana did in throwing the first no-hitter in Mets’ history.
After 8,020 games, and the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and David Cone throwing magic for them the previous 50 years, Santana just missed throwing the Mets’ 36th one hitter.
We know the numbers because the no-hit streak became a part of franchise lore, to be announced nearly every day after the opponent’s first hit. It will be interesting to hear how the Cardinals’ first hit today will be broadcast.
Who knows, maybe the Mets will throw a few more in the coming years, but there is nothing like the first. Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey and John Maine came close in recent seasons, but it was special because it was Santana, who showed extraordinary focus against the National League’s premier offense and overcame the tendency to wander and shift into cruise control with an 8-0 lead.
He was aided by an umpire’s blown call – the streak would be alive today with instant replay – but for one night baseball karma was with the Mets, the way it was during the Summer of 69 and on that crisp October night when Mookie Wilson’s grounder snaked up the first base line and scooted underneath Bill Buckner’s glove.
Perhaps karma was with the Mets because after so many snake bites and near misses – many with Santana on the mound – they deserved to have one to go their way. Logically, it isn’t supposed to work that way in sports, but the Mets always defied logic, just as Santana’s comeback from serious surgery came against conventional medical wisdom.
These are the Mets, so maybe an asterisk is appropriate. However, you can label an asterisk with anything, such as an incredible catch by Mike Baxter that will forever be a part of Mets’ lore, suggested Dickey.
How great is it Baxter grew up in the shadows of Shea Stadium? Maybe he dreamt of doing something like that catch, one so violent he had to be removed from the game with a bruised shoulder.
Ironically, Baxter robbed Yadier Molina, who, during what many thought was another magical Mets’ run in 2006, robbed them of a World Series with a ninth-inning, Game 7 homer in the NLCS.
“What a night for the Mets,” Baxter said. “As a Met fan as a kid, it is a huge night for the Mets. We have been waiting a long time for a no-hitter.”
Yes, Santana was the author, but that no-hitter belonged to everybody. Baxter was right about that.
However, despite all those no-decisions and splashes of bad luck, Santana never regretted becoming a Met and always pitched with a warrior’s mentality that screamed team. That is one of the reasons despite a relatively short tenure here, Santana will go down as a beloved Met.
A warrior doesn’t leave what he starts, and despite a shoulder-protecting pitch count of 110, Santana threw 134, the most in his career.
“I just couldn’t take him out,” Collins would later say. Collins said he had to give his heart to Santana regardless of what his head was saying. Collins said he was torn, and will remain that way until Santana’s next start.
The drama already played out, the ninth was a breeze with Matt Holliday lining to center, Allen Craig weakly flying to left and World Series hero David Freese striking out.
When it was over and Santana reached baseball immortality, he spoke in team.
“We did this together,” Santana said. “It is not just about me. We had a great, great game tonight. Everyone participated. We did the little things the way we were supposed to do it. And it worked out good. I thanked them because we as a team made history tonight.”
Santana is right. Although he threw the pitches, so much went into those pitches that must be remembered, and they will.
“I don’t think I’ve ever even thrown a no-hitter in video games,” Santana said. He has now, and has the video that forever captured the moment that will go down as one of the greatest in franchise history.