This week in Part VIII of our ongoing series recalling the New York Mets’ 50-year history in detail, we celebrate one of the team’s two greatest years, 1986, with its stunning, come-from-behind World Series victory. But in a great coincidence, we’re also celebrating another fantastic triumph, one that’s given fans a new level of excitement for this season —Johan Santana’s Friday night no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Thanks in large part to Santana’s dominance of opposing batters this year, the Mets are only a game and a half out of first place in the National League East. They briefly tied for the top spot a couple days ago, and could grab it again at any time.
No one was expecting the season to turn out as well as it has so far. The off-season was filled with negatives for the team. No one knew if Santana would even be on the mound, much less throw a no-hitter against one of the strongest lineups in baseball, after he missed more than a full season following shoulder surgery. The team’s payroll had been cut by $50 million, the most in league history. The Bernie Madoff scandal, which the team’s owners had been caught up in, was still playing out in court, and there was a chance the Mets would have to be sold. Superstar shortstop Jose Reyes had left the team for Miami. All the prognosticators were picking the Mets to end up in last place.
But then the season began on a high note, with the Amazin’s sweeping the Atlanta Braves in their opening series. Santana was back, and pitching effectively. RA Dickey was pitching like an all-star. David Wright flirted with a .400 batting average for the first six weeks and is playing like a Most Valuable Player candidate. Manager Terry Collins was ingraining serious enthusiasm into the team’s younger players.
Of course, nothing’s perfect. The Mets are still suffering the injury curse that’s plagued them the last three seasons. Catcher Josh Thole and outfielder Jason Bay just came back from the disabled list, but shortstop Ruben Tejada is still on it and pitcher Mike Pelfrey is out for the season.
But the June 1 no-hitter, an 8-0 victory against the Cardinals, the defending World Champions and the best-hitting team in the National League, has changed everyone’s outlook for the better. Suddenly people are reminded that these are the Amazin’s, and that ya gotta believe. They saw not only Santana’s mastery of the mound, but the kind of hard playing that champions bring to the field, like when Whitestone’s own Mike Baxter saved the no-hitter in the seventh inning with a terrific catch that saw him hit the left-field wall hard enough to land him the DL for six weeks.
It took the Mets 8,020 games to get their first no-hitter. They’ve come close many times, with 35 one-hitters in their 50 seasons, but even their legendary aces like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden had never thrown a no-no in a Mets uniform. Now only one team in baseball has never been on the right side of a no-hitter, the San Diego Padres.
And the success didn’t end Friday night. The next day, Dickey, who just keeps getting better, pitched another shutout against the Cards, and then the Mets clambered into the first place tie. They haven’t stayed there, but being a game and a half out in early June is nothing.
Of course no one knows what comes next. The Mets are infamous for bad luck and blowing good seasons, especially the last few years. But there’s always a chance. Ya gotta believe! And whatever comes next, today we cherish the Mets’ first no-hitter and congratulate Santana and all the rest of our hometown heroes.