There are moments in baseball where words do not do justice. Tonight, Citi Field in Flushing, New York hosted that sort of event. The New York Mets, who entered tonight as one of only two teams to have never thrown a no-hitter, put an end to that 50+ year old mark. Johan Santana, who the Mets traded for after their 2007 September collapse, threw a career high 134 pitches to complete the historic milestone. It is Santana’s first no-hitter, in addition to the franchise’s first. The Mets blew out the Cardinals 8-0.
The victim of his no-no was the reigning world champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite coming close to a hit on more than one occasion, the Cardinals were not the 8020th team the Mets have faced to successfully reach base from a batted ball. It is the first time since Fernando Valenzuela’s no-hitter in 1990 that the Cardinals have been no-hit.
The play that will be talked about by most of the media will be the fair ball that was ruled foul in the sixth inning, which came off the bat of former Mets outfielder, Carlos Beltran. But fate and third base umpire Adrian Johnson sided with the Mets, and the ball was ruled foul. Replays show the chalk on the line clearly flying upwards, indicating it was fair. Surely, this will be used as the latest piece of evidence in the fierce debate over instant replay’s place in baseball. Tonight, it is secondary.
The play that will live in the hearts and minds of the 27,069 in attendance at Citi Field, in addition to the millions of fans that breathlessly watched the drama play out, will be Mike Baxter’s catch off of Yadier Molina’s deep fly ball in the top of the seventh inning. Molina, whose deep fly ball that landed over the wall at Shea Stadium broke the hearts of Mets fans on a cold October night in 2006, didn’t quite get enough juice behind this fly ball. Regardless, the rookie Baxter had to race back to the warning track, awkwardly hold his left hand out, before magically catching the ball and tumbling backwards into the outfield fence. Baxter left the game with an injured shoulder, but Santana’s bid was still alive.
Two innings later, Santana needed to get through the heart of the Cardinals order to complete the historic event. Matt Holliday swung at the first pitch and ripped a looping line drive to center field that Andres Torres raced in to make a play on, arriving in plenty of time. Allen Craig then popped a ball into left field, and again it looked like it would fall in for a hit. But there was Kirk Nieuwenhuis to make the catch with little time to spare. Finally, there stood the reigning World Series MVP, David Freese. Santana fell behind 3-0 before throwing three straight strikes, the final of which was on Santana’s patented circle change, which sunk nearly into the dirt before Josh Thole’s glove found it. Freese’s swing came up empty, and the Mets were on cloud nine. The most potent offense in the National League failed to pick up a hit against the New York Mets.
In a year where the Mets have exceeded all expectations through the first two months of the season, the magic has continued into June. Credit Santana, his defense, and his luck. In a no-hitter, the pitcher is never the only star. In tonight’s game, you can also look at the manager. Terry Collins pitch limit on Johan Santana in 2012 has been around the 110 pitch mark. Tonight, a year after coming back from shoulder surgery and no longer the pitcher that the Mets sacrificed their farm system for in February of 2008, Santana threw the most number of pitches that he has thrown in his illustrious thirteen year career. That is the manager knowing how much this occasion meant for this team. In an age where pitch counts and innings limits are rampant, Collins paid no heed to modern day baseball wisdom. He relied on the guts of his pitcher and Santana, a workhorse in his heyday, did not let his manager down.
The Mets have had magical moments – the 1969 Miracle Mets winning the World Series; Games Six and Seven of the 1986 World Series; their improbable run to the World Series in 2000; Mike Piazza’s go-ahead home run in the first professional sports game in New York City after the attacks of September 11th. But the modern day Mets fan has seen too much heartache – Carlos Beltran striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of the 2006 NLCS; their September collapse the following season; Luis Castillo dropping the final out against the Yankees; injury after injury the past three seasons.
The modern day Met fan now has a story to tell that has a happy ending. In a scene not too dissimilar from the MLB 2012: The Show commercial that depicts the scene at Wrigley Field as the Cubs win the World Series, the scene at Citi Field was nearly equally magical. Except that this was real. It was one of those scenes that makes baseball the most cherished sport in America. No other sport has a feat quite as challenging or as exhilaration to watch as a perfect game or a no-hitter. Not football, not basketball, not hockey.
When all is said and done with Johan Santana’s career, this might be the first highlight that you will see. It comes in support of the team that trusted him with its future after its lowest point. For a while, it was looking like the Santana trade was not worth its price. The Mets missed the playoffs in 2008, despite the heroic pitching by their ace in the final weeks of the season. Santana pitched less than 200 innings in each of the following two seasons, before missing all of 2011 with shoulder issues. This year, Johan has turned back the clocks. Although he is only 3-2, he lowers his E.R.A. to 2.38 with his second complete game shut out in a row. He has not brought a championship, or even a playoff appearance to the Mets. However, his legacy has been secured.
He has given them a memory to last the team and their fans a lifetime.
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