Last night Johan Santana achieved what names like Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, Gooden, Cone, and countless others were never able to do in a Mets uniform. Almost two years after undergoing major shoulder surgery, Santana wasn’t just battling his own limitations or the best offensive team in the National League, he was battling history. Did any Mets fan think this day would ever come? If they did, they’d never admit it because, well, that’s not what Mets fans do. Even as the innings passed and the zeroes went up, there was nothing but radio silence as I sat on my couch and allowed the slightest of smiles to slowly creep across my face.
Then in the top of the sixth, it happened, or so we thought. Former Met Carlos Beltran lined a ball over third base that kicked… foul? Whoa, that looked awfully close. The Mets announcers, especially Keith Hernandez, certainly thought so. And looking at the replay the ball did indeed catch the foul line but third base umpire Adrian Johnson simply missed a close call. It’s baseball. It happens. Just ask former Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. Moments later Beltran would be retired and Santana would make it out of the inning unscathed.
In the seventh there would be more drama. For starters, Santana’s pitch count was climbing and, because of his surgery, manager Terry Collins was said to have him on a strict limit of 110. Doing the fast math, it seemed unlikely he would be able to complete the game under those constraints. Do you pull your ace in the middle of a no-hit bid or risk permanently damaging his arm in the pursuit of one glorious accomplishment? Those questions could wait. There was a game to be played. The Mets were cruising with a 5-0 lead but focusing on each Cardinals at bat as though their lives depended on it. A one-out drive off the bat of Yadier Molina immediately put their resolve to the test… and then some. Ripped out to left field, Molina’s shot seemed destined to be the double that broke up the no-no. But 27-year-old rookie Mike Baxter, a Queens kid, somehow tracked it down, ramming his shoulder into the wall in the process. He would have to be removed from the game, but from the look on Santana’s face and the ovation from the fans for that one shining moment (if you’ll excuse the pun) the magic was "Bax."
After that, it was a bit of a blur. The cautiously optimistic text messages started appearing on my phone. My friend Kevin, a lifelong Mets fan whom I’ve known since we both started walking and talking, was the first. “Santana has a no-no through 7. Not sure if you’re watching,” it read. I proceeded to send my share of those heads-up texts to my brother and other friends, still not sure that the unimaginable could possibly happen. By the time the Mets were out of the eighth it was clear that Santana’s pitch count was an afterthought. No turning back now. Matt Holliday led off the ninth by stroking one into center that could have fallen in, but Baxter replacement Andres Torres tracked down. Allen Craig followed with a similar shot to left that found its way into Joe Niewenhuis’ glove. The final hurdle, David Freese, ran the count full before fishing for a change up that found its way to Josh Thole’s mitt. It had finally happened! 134 pitches on a surgically repaired shoulder later, the Mets had their first no-hitter in team history!
Texts flew in fast and furious with words like, “Finally” and “Unbelievable” and “Best Night Ever.” Grown men were admitting to weeping, others were predicting the end of the world, and I was receiving congratulatory voicemail messages from as far away as Oklahoma. The first no-hitter in Mets history was something short of perfect, which seemed fitting for this most imperfect of franchises. The hero of the moment, Santana later recounted an exchange he had with his manager in the seventh inning. Collins told Santana, “You’re my hero.” To which Santana replied, “I’m not coming out of this game.” I think that’s what sums it up for most Mets fans. It took 51 years, but none of us were coming out of this game.