Passing Judgment – Johan Santana’s No-Hitter

I consider myself a die-hard Mets fan, whether the team is good or not.  I try and watch as many games as I can no matter who they are playing or who is pitching.  Last Friday night, I knew Johan Santana was going against Adam Wainwright in the first game for Carlos Beltran back at Citi Field as an opponent.  Once I put my daughter to bed, I had planned on tuning in and seeing at least the last half of the game.

Around 9:00, I was being a good husband allowing my wife to flip the channel in between innings to the Soap Network so she could watch the rerun of that day’s General Hospital (which I admittedly do watch as well – and so does Stephen A. Smith).  When I turned the Mets game back on, I noticed that Santana hadn’t allowed a hit through six innings and his teammates were staying far away from him on the bench.

Being only 33 years old, my lack of experiencing a no-hitter pales in comparison to many other Mets fans who are older than me.  But I was equally as frustrated at the fact the team had never had one and was the punchline to a trivia question.  I remember Tom Glavine taking a no-hitter deep into a game against Colorado several years ago and thinking that might be it.  I remember R.A. Dickey doing it even more recently.  But I never really believed that it would actually happen.

After the 6th inning, Mets announcer Gary Cohen did mention that Santana had a no-hitter going.  He obviously didn’t believe in the jinx of saying it aloud, probably because he himself never thought it would happen.  Santana’s pitch count was high, and coming off such a serious injury and surgery, there was no way Terry Collins would let him throw 125 pitches. 

Then, in the 7th inning, Queens native Mike Baxter made one of the most famous catches in Mets history when he robbed Yadier Molina of a double by crashing into the left field wall to preserve the no-hitter.  Baxter sacrificed himself to potentially preserve history.  At that point, I remember thinking to myself that something special was happening.  I told my wife she would have to forego what was happening in Port Charles in exchange for what was happening in Queens.

Santana made it through the 7th inning unscathed but his pitch count was already over 100.  Now I figured there was no chance Terry Collins would take him out of the game.  Collins not only cares about his players, but he has a great respect and understanding of the Mets fan base.  He knew what was going on and how important this could be for the organization and its fans.  We now have all heard what he said to Santana, calling him his hero.  We all know now that Santana told him he was not coming out of the game.  But how much was left in the tank?

As it turned out, Santana came out for his turn at bat in both the 7th and 8th innings.  He didn’t even lift the bat off his shoulders in the 8th as he struck out looking on a full count.  The last thing we wanted to see was Santana having to expend energy by running the bases.  The Mets continued to score runs against the Cardinals bullpen, and all we wanted was for Santana to get back out there and take the mound.

By the time he took the mound in the 9th inning, he had thrown over 120 pitches.  His CAREER high had been 124 pitches in a game.  This is a man who missed all of 2011 after undergoing serious shoulder surgery that not many others have ever come back from.  This is a man who thought he might never pitch again.  This is man who was considered a hero just for making it back to spring training and then being ready to start on Opening Day.

It took only 12 pitches in the 9th inning to seal the deal.  But the first two outs were nerve-racking as a couple of bloops hung in the air long enough for Andres Torres and Kirk Niewenhuis to grab them.  Then, after falling behind 2011 World Series MVP David Freese 3-0, I was worried Santana would groove a pitch that could be hammered.  Instead, he came back to strike Freese out with a devastating change-up and make history.

No, the Mets did not just win the World Series.  No, they didn’t clinch a playoff berth.  Heck, the win didn’t even put the Mets in first place in their division.  But after going through the past couple years of turmoil with the Madoff scandal, late season collapses, the loss of key players, and having absolutely no expectations, this was cause for a celebration and an appreciation of how special Johan Santana is. 

Granted, it probably shouldn’t have been a no-hitter because Carlos Beltran’s foul ball did hit the chalk down the third base line.  But the umpire ruled it foul and that is that.  That is baseball.  Screw the St. Louis Dispatch and their asterisk.  That is just sour grapes.  Perhaps they should be more concerned about putting an asterisk next to the career statistics of their hitting coach (hey Mark McGwire, how many Hall of Fame votes did you get this year?).

I explained to my wife why this was such a big deal.  It gave me great joy to see my team and a great player achieve something that was so unexpected and historic.  I am sure that Johan Santana expected different results when he came to the Mets in 2008.  But despite the struggles that the franchise has had since then, he has been a pillar of consistency and a model citizen.  He is the true definition of an ace and somebody that all Mets fans can admire as one of our own.  I proudly wore my Santana jersey the next day and couldn’t go 10 minutes without talking about the game with people around me.

As well as the Mets have played this season, the reality is that they will not likely sustain this pace.  The bullpen is too shaky, the injuries are mounting, and the lack of run production from the likes of Ike Davis and Jason Bay will eventually catch up with them.  But regardless of what their final record is this year, Johan Santana and the rest of this team have given us Mets fans several reasons to have a summer filled with meaningful and entertaining baseball. 

Thank you Johan.

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