Even with such luminaries as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Frank Viola having stood atop the mound in Flushing over the years, the Mets had never seen one of their pitchers throw a no-hitter, one of baseball’s very special accomplishments.
Until last Friday.
That’s when ace pitcher Johan Santana finally ended the 50-year hex by tossing Major League Baseball’s 275th no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the best-hitting team in the National League no less, for an 8-0 win at Citi Field.
While a lot was understandably made of this first in Mets history, one thing that went unsaid was that there hadn’t been a major league no-hitter in Queens since the late Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Bob Moose, threw one against the Miracle Mets on Sept. 20, 1969 at Shea Stadium. Undaunted, the Mets went on to win the World Series less than a month later.
Mets manager Terry Collins mixed euphoria with concern at his press conference following Santana’s accomplishment, saying he had wrestled with the decision to keep the pitcher in the game. At his pre-game meeting with reporters, Collins had said that he wanted to limit Johan’s pitch count to around 110.
Santana missed all of the 2011 season and a great deal of the 2010 campaign recovering from shoulder surgery, so the last thing that Collins wanted was to have a situation where he taxed his star pitcher’s arm past the 110 boundary. Collins is also well aware that Santana earns $24 million per year, and the last thing the financially troubled Mets needed was for him to spend more time out of uniform. It would have been the textbook definition of a Pyrrhic victory for Collins to have Santana pitch a no-hitter and then see him wind up on the disabled list.
The Mets manager had taken a lot of heat two weeks ago for removing David Wright from a game with the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field because he did not want to risk having him injured after a beanball war broke out. Mets reliever DJ Carrasco plunked Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, so Collins wisely figured that the Brewers relief corps would retaliate against Wright in the bottom of the inning.
Wright was livid about Collins’ mollycoddling of him and it was clear the manager understood his point. There was no way that Collins was going to take Santana out of a game where he could make history unless the pitcher himself wanted to be removed. Judging by his post-game demeanor, however, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Collins had secretly rooted for a Cardinals player to get a hit after Santana went past the 100-pitch mark so that he wouldn’t have been faced with such a wrenching decision. Santana wound up throwing a very taxing 134 pitches.
The Mets manager could have been let off the hook in the sixth inning, had umpire Adrian Johnson made the right call when former Mets star Carlos Beltran hit a shot over the third base bag that was ruled a foul ball. A replay showed that the ball did in fact hit the line, and Beltran should have had a double.
The Mets may have earned some karma from the baseball gods with respect to Beltran when they saluted him with a video montage of highlights from his seven-year tenure with the Amazin’s prior to the game. The crowd roared its approval and Beltran responded in kind with a tip of his hat.
Mets outfielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter made a sensational catch on Yadier Molina’s screeching line drive to rob him of a double in the seventh inning. Baxter smashed into the wall and was lying on the ground for some time afterwards. He was removed from the game, but X-rays taken afterwards were negative. He was at his locker following the game and told the media he had merely suffered a bad bruise. Unfortunately, it was determined the following day that he displaced a collar bone in addition to bruising his ribs, and will probably miss the next six weeks.
Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis took over for Baxter in left field, and the following inning saved the no-hitter when he raced in for a bloop fly ball hit by Cards second baseman Tyler Greene. Mets fans’ hearts were racing when they saw shortstop Omar Quintanilla, who was subbing for the injured Ruben Tejada, go full throttle in the other direction for Greene’s pop-up. Quintanilla said afterwards that he heard Nieuwenhuis call him off at the very last second. With so much on the line, as well as a very loud crowd, it was completely understandable how communication could have been garbled between them. In past years, Santana would have lost the no-hitter on that play, and one or both of the players would have been injured in a collision. Not on this night, however.
The Mets bullpen earned a rare night off but they were clearly on standby.
“We tried to stay inconspicuous but we had someone ready from the sixth inning on,” reliever Bobby Parnell revealed in the clubhouse following the game.
Santana clearly benefited from the return of catcher Josh Thole, who had just come off the disabled list a few hours earlier after enduring a concussion three weeks ago. Thole certainly called a good game for Santana, as the Mets pitcher did not shake off any of his signs.
As if there wasn’t enough drama on the diamond already, rain was working its way up the I-95 corridor Friday night. The Washington Nationals had already canceled their game while the Phillies were in a lengthy rain delay at home. Former Mets general manager Jim Duquette, who was subbing for Josh Lewin in the radio booth, said that he and Howie Rose were sharing weather forecasts with the fans as the game went on. “Everyone knew that if play was stopped even for a few minutes, Johan would be removed from the game,” he said. He went on to add that he and Rose made a conscious decision to start talking about the possibility of a no-hitter in the sixth inning.
As the late Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy used to say, “The weatherman certainly cooperated with the Mets!” After all of the teams’ bad fortunes over the last few years, the fans finally saw an unforgettable milestone at Citi Field.