Doc Gooden, Jerry Koosman, David Cone, Mark Clark, John Maine, Tom Glavine. The list goes on. The Mets have had 35 one-hitters in their history. According to the web site NoNohitters.com, the Mets have lost 68 no-hitters in the 6th inning, 23 in the 7th and 15 in the 8th to go along with the 3 Seaver lost in the 9th.
Many a Met has flirted with Destiny over the years. She's the game's great temptress and has toyed with the emotions of Mets fans like the proverbial cat with a ball of string. The only difference is the ball of the string doesn't know it's being toyed with.
When the Cardinals/Mets game began, the focus was on Carlos Beltran's return to New York. I got home from the gym at 6:53, jumped in the shower and sat in front of the TV in my living room in time to see the first pitch. Beltran's first time up, Santana got him with a change up and Carlos peaked out at Johan with a slight smile on his face. "You got me, pal," he seemed to be saying.
As the Mets hit in the bottom of the second, my wife came into the room and whispered "If the boys go to bed early tonight, you may get lucky." Did she already know what was going to happen??!!
The Cardinals came into the game as the best offense in the National League. First in average, runs per game, home runs, OBP% and SLG%. This was not the San Diego Padres lineup that Santana had shutout in his last start. When Beltran lined out to end the third, leaving the Cardinals hitless through three, I certainly wasn't ready to get the shovel and dig up my thoughts of a no-no finally happening for the Mets.
When the top of the fourth began, I was reminded by my sons that I had promised them Dairy Queen for dessert, so I jumped in the car and put the game on the radio. As I pulled into the bank to grab some cash for the ice cream, David Wright had doubled and Danny Murphy tripled, giving the Mets two runs in the bottom of the fourth. "Good," I thought, "Johan has some room to work with." By the time the woman at the drive through window was handing me my Blizzards, Howie Rose was announcing that Rafael Furcal had lined out to left and the Cardinals were hitless through five. "Hmmm....."
I got home and passed out the treats, trying to figure out the best place to watch the game. My oldest son was in the den, my wife and youngest were in the living room. Those are the two rooms in the house with the HD TV's, but the trade off of watching SD in the basement was the peace and quiet that would come with it. You know, just in case... By the way, it's the same SONY big screen I bought in January of '98, right before the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. Karma?
The Cardinals came to bat in the 6th as I settled onto the couch, M+M Blizzard in hand. As I dug into my ice cream, I started to dig up "The Thought." "This is Johan, after all. It's not like he's incapable of doing it." No sooner than I think that and Beltran smokes one down the third base line... "Oh no! Wait, it's foul."
Replays show it wasn't foul. The ball hit chalk.
"Too bad, Carlos! The ump called it foul, so it's foul."
At this point I, along with probably every other Mets fan, shifted into mental overdrive. "We got a break? In a potential no-hitter? That's a good sign right?? I mean it was Beltran who hit it. And Wainwright, the guy who altered Beltran's Mets legacy forever is on the mound for the Cardinals. Are the baseball gods setting us up or is this all pointing toward the unthinkable??"
Beltran hit another hot shot, but this one right at Wright, who threw Beltran out. Holliday struck out, Craig popped out and now it's serious.
Since I was a teenager I've had a running joke about how a pitcher working on a no-hitter is literally "flirting with Destiny," personifying Destiny as a woman in a bar that the pitcher is making the moves on. When a no-hitter gets broken up, there are a myriad of jokes to be made about the pitcher being hung out to dry. Conversely, there are a bunch of jokes about the pitcher and Destiny hooking up if the no-hitter happens. So as we entered the 7th inning, Johan had a seat at Destiny's table and the two had struck up a nice conversation.
Unfortunately for all Mets fans, Destiny has a whiny, bitchy, nag of a roommate named Pitch Count, who was at the table too and was a serious threat to convince Destiny to get out of the bar and go home because they have to be up early tomorrow. Since Santana is coming off major shoulder surgery and a complete game in his last start, the Mets have set a pitch count for him in this game of around 110. Through six innings Johan is up to 91. Talk about a wet blanket!
Over Easter weekend this year, Jon Niese was flirting with a no-no. My dad was visiting and the thought crossed my mind that it would be amazing to see the first Mets no-no with my dad. It didn't happen. The next day I did a podcast with Bill Simmons and he asked me about a combined no-hitter. I told him I'd rather have the Mets not get one than to have the first one be a combined effort. With Santana's pitch count apparently an issue, I wondered if I was going to eat those words.
After Freese popped out, the dreaded Yadier Molina came to the plate. The same Yadier Molina who broke our hearts in 2006. Karma? Molina ripped one to deep left on an eerily similar trajectory to that '06 blast, but as Mike Baxter raced back toward the wall, it looked like he had a chance...
Baxter reached out to snag the ball moments before slamming into the wall, and held on for the second out in the inning. Mike Baxter, born in Queens and grew up a Mets fan, drafted by the Padres (the only other MLB teams without a no-hitter) saved the day. I got your karma right here!! Baxter was down and in pain. He had to leave the game but did so to probably the biggest ovation he'll ever receive in the major leagues. It reminded me of the hero in a movie who takes one for the team and tells the guys "Go on without me!!" Baxter joins Endy Chavez, Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee on the Mount Rushmore of Best Catches in Mets History.
Santana ended the 7th without a ground out to first and now, as the great Jim Ross would say, business is picking up. My wife called down to me, asking if I could help her put our 4-year old to bed. I declined, telling her "I'll put him to bed twice tomorrow night."
My 9-year old, Jack, came into the room. I rewound the DVR to show him the Baxter catch. "Six outs away," I told him. Jack settled onto the other couch and I instructed him not to move. I have not uncrossed my legs since the last out of the 5th. As I finished my ice cream I wondered if I should eat slower to try and make it last all the way to the 9th.
The Mets put together a rally in the bottom of the 7th. The inning lasted about 18 minutes and as it unfolded, the broadcast team wondered if the length of the inning could be harmful for Santana. All I knew was it was killing me. The butterflies in my stomach were performing some kind of X-games stunt. I thought about calling my dad to make sure he was watching, but I couldn't risk it. Karma. I prayed he was watching.
As the top of the 8th started, my emotions had me near tears. I was nervous, I was exhilarated, I was imagining the joy I might feel if it happened, the jubilation I would share with my baseball-loving son, but also the despair if it didn't. I reminded myself how great it is to feel this way, how much I love baseball and sports in general for taking me to this place.
After two outs, Santana walked Furcal, missing badly with a change up for ball four. Mets manager Terry Collins jogged toward the mound to a sea of boos, but he is just there to make sure Johan is OK. Of course he is. Collins returned to the dugout to a sea of cheers. Up next, who else but Carlos Beltran. When the count got to two strikes, I hoped Beltran would do what he did against the Cards in '06, and go down looking. He swung and hit a soft liner toward second that Daniel Murphy raced in and snagged.
"Oh Lord, we're really three outs from this happening."
During the commercial break Jack asked me if I'm crying. "Not yet," I said, "but if he gets it, I probably will." I thought about explaining to Jack that the tears would be for the moment he and I would share as much as for the no-hitter itself, but I'm not quite sure he'll understand.
No-hitters are wonderful things, but as I told Simmons on the podcast that day, I'll still take playoff and World Series appearances if it means a life without a no-hitter. That said, I've been a Mets fan for 39 years and the thought of this happening, with Jack sitting by my side and us experiencing this together, well let's just say it raised the dust level in the basement.
The 9th inning started. Jack, upon orders from me, returned to the couch in his previous position. I remained on my back, left leg crossed over right leg at the ankle, iPhone resting against my right forearm (Twitter makes this whole experience even more entertaining). I took a deep breath as though I was about to jump off a high ridge into a swirling river. Pitch Count had long since left the bar and was back home watching FRIENDS on TBS. Johan and Destiny had left the bar, too. They had gone back to his place.
Here we go.
Matt Holliday lead off. On the first pitch he broke his bat and blooped one toward center. Off the bat I thought "Crap, that's going to fall," but it didn't. It hung in the air... almost as if the inhaling gasp of the Citi Field crowd sucked it up into the night air a little higher, allowing center fielder Andres Torres to come running in and snag it. One out.
Next up was Allen Craig. The SNY cameras cut around to the faces of the Mets defenders behind Santana. They all looked as scared as first timers in a brothel. R.A. Dickey was on the bench with a towel tightly wrapped over his head. He resembled a 5-year old hiding behind the curtains, afraid to look out because there might be a monster in the room. When Craig lofted Santana's pitch to shallow left, the crowd made a noise like they were watching a child run into the street. Like Holliday's ball, this one had a sniff of a Texas league hit, but not quite as terrifying and Niewenhuis made the catch. Two outs.
David Freese strode to the plate. He of the October heroics.
Santana fell behind 3-0 on with Molina lingering on deck. "Please, not Molina," I plead. Karma. Johan fought back to get the count full. I pumped my left fist saying "Come on, Johan! Come on." Jack giggled nervously. Santana fired his 134th pitch of the night, a dastardly change up that carried the hopes and prayers of Mets fans everywhere on it's seams. And perhaps it was that weight, the burden of 8,019 games without ever throwing a no-hitter, that pushed the ball closer toward the dirt and below the futile swing of Freese for strike three.
Jack jumped in my arms. I cried. He cried. I screamed. He screamed. We hugged for about thirty seconds before I told him I had to call my dad.
It's only one game, one win, the Mets weren't crowned champions tonight, but this game gave me and so many other Mets fans a championship feeling. Clearly the wait (39 rooting years for me, 45 for my brother, 51 for my dad) made this moment more special.
There are a few sports scenes that make me giggle with delight every time I see them. It's a suppressed giggle that comes with a quick tearing of the eyes as the wave of the joy of the moment, the memory, washes over me. The ball through Buckner's legs. Elway's helicopter against the Packers. Mobley batting down the last pass of Super Bowl 32. Endy's catch. Tebow to Thomas. And now this.
While I am on the phone with my dad, Jack grabs two plain white t-shirts and some markers and makes t-shirts to commemorate the event.
I've waited my entire life for this moment, and now Jack and I have a memory for the rest of our lives.