Santana Chalks Up First N*-Hitter in Met History

With some help, star pitcher Johan Santana finally ended a half-century-long wait by delivering the New York Mets’ first official no-hitter.

As for the franchise’s first legitimate no-hitter, the wait remains at 8,020 games – 8,094 including postseason contests – and counting.

That is, unless you believe the third base foul line at Citi Field might have been painted wrong, thereby finding at least one feeble way to justify a magical moment that nonetheless will forever live in Met lore – but one that in reality, never should have happened.

It certainly didn’t appear that line was anything but perfectly straight on Friday night, especially not when a screaming liner off the bat of Santana’s ex-Met teammate Carlos Beltran over the third base bag in the top of the sixth inning landed with half of the ball on the white chalk and the other half on the brown dirt just outside of the foul line.

Yet, what clearly should have been at least a hit, and a likely double for Beltran, was ruled a foul ball by third base umpire Adrian Johnson, who with a single blown call, instantly became a huge part of Met history during New York’s 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Beltran grounded out to third baseman David Wright on the next pitch to keep the no-hit bid intact and everyone from wondering how much longer it otherwise might have taken to ultimately see an end to the Mets’ no-hit futility for an often pitching-rich franchise in its 51st season.

In fairness, Johnson could hardly be blamed for his incorrect judgment on a ball that from his vantage point behind third base, was very difficult to catch with the naked eyes – even for a well-trained and experienced major league baseball umpire – as the ball rocketed down the foul line.

“I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul,” Johnson said to a reporter after the game. However, when asked what he later saw on a slowed-down replay, Johnson simply had, “No comment.”

None was needed, as Johnson knew he had missed the call and thus extended Santana’s chance at becoming an all-time Met folk hero.

Before that could happen, Santana needed a little more assistance of a much more authentic variety one inning after Johnson’s controversial call, when leftfielder Mike Baxter, who grew up as a Met fan in Queens, sacrificed his body to help save what would become the first no-hitter for the team based in the same borough in which Baxter was born and learned the game.

Chasing down a long fly ball hit by catcher Yadier Molina, Baxter made a brilliant running catch on the left field warning track just before crashing into the wall and leaving the game with a left shoulder contusion.

Sounding more like the Met fan of his earlier days rather than the player who just aided the pitcher he was very proud of, Baxter said, “What a night for the Mets. As a Mets fan, as a kid, it’s a huge night for the Mets. We’ve been waiting a long time for a no-hitter. Nobody better than Johan.”

The confluence of events that ended what had been the longest a major league team had ever waited for its initial no-hitter was ironic, given some of the parties involved.

Santana improved to 3-2 with an impressive 2.38 ERA and a sparkling 1.03 WHIP this season by beating pitcher Adam Wainwright, who fell to 4-6 with 4.98 ERA.

Wainwright, along with Molina, are best remembered by Met fans for ending New York’ season – and for doing so against Beltran – the last time New York made the playoffs, six years ago.

Beltran, now in his fifteenth year and with his different fifth team, followed an underachieving first season with New York in 2005 with three good seasons that including two all-star game appearances and the only three gold gloves that the centerfielder has ever won. But, injuries then prevented Beltran from living up to final three years of a very lucrative contract with the Mets.

And, to this day, whether fair or not, Beltran’s seven years in New York are underscored most by a single moment in which he was caught looking on a nasty breaking ball by the then-rookie Wainwright to end Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series, with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Mets trailing by two runs – as New York was seeking its third World Series title, its first since 1986, and its first World Series appearance since 2000.

The deficit in that haunting game to Met fans everywhere was provided by a tie-breaking and game-winning two run home run in the top of the ninth inning by none other than Molina, who if not for Baxter, would have once again caused Met fans to add an unbecoming middle name for the Cardinals’ catcher, by saying as they did half a dozen years ago, “Yadier Freakin’ Molina!”

Before Santana’s no-hitter stole the show, the main story of this weekend’s four-game set between the Cardinals (27-25) and Mets (29-23) was supposed to be Beltran’s New York homecoming after the cash-strapped Mets were forced to trade their former star centerfielder to San Francisco late last season.

This wouldn’t be Beltran’s night though, as it was in the cards for the Mets’ no-hit streak to end against the Cards.

With Santana beating Wainwright, and Beltran and Molina being the ones to nearly but not quite spoil the memorable evening, things came full circle in some ways for the Mets to become just the fourth major league team with one franchise no-hitter (along with the Brewers, Blue Jays, Rays and Rockies), leaving the San Diego Padres to take over the unwanted mantle as the team with the longest no-hitter drought – one that has reached 6,895 games.

Thankfully for Met fans, New York ended its streak 926 short of the all-time longest no-hit drought, which still belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who went 8,945 games without a no-hitter between 1906 and 1964, when pitcher Jim Bunning ended that dubious stretch with a perfect game on Father’s Day, against the Mets, during the inaugural season of New York’s previous home, Shea Stadium.

Although Johnson and Baxter bailed him out, the 33-year-old Santana, whose fourth season in New York (after eight largely stellar years in Minnesota) was delayed when he sat out all of last year with major shoulder surgery, struggled a bit with his command early in the game.

He walked five batters overall, three in the first four innings, while issuing consecutive bases on balls to last year’s World Series MVP, third baseman David Freese, and Molina with one out in the top of the second inning.

But, Santana also struck out eight hitters in a mostly masterful and gutty effort against the defending World Series champions who boast a lineup that leads entered the game with a National League-leading .281 average and 270 runs scored (second in the majors in each of those categories to only the American League’s Texas Rangers).

Meanwhile, the Mets, who are known for their usual lack of offensive support for their ace pitcher, did a lot more than helping Santana in the field for a second consecutive time, scoring two runs in the fourth inning, three in the sixth (on right fielder Lucas Duda’s team-leading eighth home run), and three more in the eighth.

Given that type of cushion, Santana was able to focus on finishing off his second straight gem.

His previous start, was a 96-pitch, four-hit masterpiece in a 9-0 home victory over San Diego, six days earlier. That effort combined with the no-hitter made Santana the first Met in two decades (since David Cone in 1992) to throw a pair of complete-game shutouts in succession.  He also became the first pitcher in nearly three decades (since Dave Righetti in 1983) to toss a no-hitter in the nest start following a shutout.

Shortly after making Met history, the well-known website NoNo-Hitters.com – which had been tracking the team’s inability to record a no-hitter on a game-by-game basis –crashed by midnight, presumably from an overload of Met fan traffic, with a message that read, “The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.” The site was back up later into the night for the Met faithful who were still giddy with celebration.

As noted on the site, the Mets had remarkably thrown 35 one-hitters, but never a no-hitter; had six no-hitters thrown against them; and 14 had seen no-hitters pitched by former Mets after they left the team – including Cone, Phillip Humber (whom the Mets traded to Minnesota to acquire Santana, and who threw the majors’ 21st and most recent perfect game for the Chicago White Sox on April 21st), and Met legend Tom Seaver.

Santana was only four years old when Seaver took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in 1975, the last Met to do so until Santana did so with a pitch count of 122, just three shy of his previous career-high.

Twelve pitches later, his 134th and 77th for a strike, Santana got Freese to swing and miss at a great changeup to record his first career no-hitter while ending a no-hit curse that had dogged the Mets for far too long.

Three-and-a-half months after 1986 World Series hero, ex-Met catcher Gary Carter tragically died from cancer, a Met fan wearing a Carter jersey was wrestled to the ground by security to the right of a bunch of Mets who were mobbing Santana carefully (because of his reworked shoulder) on the mound after the final out.

Despite earning one of the richest pitching contracts in the majors, the class act thanked his teammates in the locker room and made the special evening more about the team effort than about himself. “Tonight, we all made history,” he told them. “You guys [made] it happen.”

Wright, the Mets’ other main veteran leader spoke for a largely young team, saying, “That was awesome. Short of Tom Seaver, I can’t think of a better person to pitch the first one. The type of guy he is, the type of person he is, and what he’s been through in the last year – to come back and have that type of performance, that’s incredible and was glad to be a part of that.”

Manager Terry Collins, who has done a great job with getting his club to overachieve and unexpectedly contend in the NL East through nearly the first third of the season, fought back some tears during the postgame press conference while admitting that during the seventh inning, he told Santana that the Venezuelan-born lefty was his hero.

An overwhelmingly proud but worried Collins was also concerned that he had pushed Santana further than he wanted to, but with over 50 years of history at stake, there was no way he was pulling Santana early.

“It’s an honor,” Santana said of his place in history. “I know how much this means to New York and to the New York Mets.” And, while interviewed by SNY-TV’s Kevin Burkhardt on the field, Santana told the 27,069 fans in attendance, “[I’m] happy for you guys. Finally, the first one!” – a statement to which the crowd responded with an appreciative roar.

Just after that exchange, infielder Justin Turner congratulated Santana on television with a face full of whipped cream, to which a smiling Santana said, “At least it wasn’t shaving cream,” as sometimes used by other players for other celebrations.

“I knew the Mets had never had a no-hitter,” Santana added. “I had never had one. This was very special. All the things I’ve been through… this means a lot to New York. This is great.”

Along with the feats of Santana and Humber, the no-hitter was the third in the majors this season, as Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver threw one against Santana’s former Minnesota team on May 2nd.

About an hour after Santana finished off his no-hitter, Florida pitcher Jonathan Crawford did the same in an NCAA tournament game against Bethune-Cookman, when Carlos Delgado – sharing the name the same name of the ex-Met star first baseman (from 2006-2009) – made the last out.

While Santana officially etched his name into the record books and eternally into the hearts of Met fans, Johnson’s missed call will always be linked with the accomplishment in the reverse way that ex-Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied his own spot in baseball prominence.

Nearly two years to the day, Galarraga, now with Baltimore, retired the first 27 batters for Detroit, at home, against the Cleveland Indians, on June 2, 2010, before Jason Donald hit what appeared to be a ground out to secure a perfect game for Galarraga, who covered first base on the play. Galarraga caught a toss and beat Donald to the first base bag, but umpire Jim Joyce (who later apologized to Galarraga) mistakenly ruled that Donald was safe with an infield hit, simultaneously costing Galarraga a perfect game and what Santana is credited with thanks in part, to Johnson.

Just as Galarraga’s imperfect game will always be marked with an asterisk, Santana’s no-hitter will always be tainted as a n*-hitter.

Nonetheless, for a franchise that had unsuccessfully come so close so many times over so many years, it felt right that the Mets at long last caught a break, and that Met fans will no longer have to remain conditioned to thinking they’ll never see their team pitch a no-hitter.

Following the famous tag line for every Mets’ win of longtime Mets’ broadcaster Howie Rose (who was born in nearby Brooklyn, who attended high school and college in Queens, and who called the game on radio for WFAN), regardless of how the team’s first no-hitter happened, “Put it in the books!”

Posted under Brown Dirt, Carlos Beltran, Chalks, David Wright, Foul Line, Incorrect Judgment, Johan Santana, Magical Moment, Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Umpire, Naked Eyes, New York Mets, Sixth Inning, St Louis Cardinals, Top Story, Vantage Point, White Chalk

This post was written by Jon Wagner on June 2, 2012

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