The game ended and I had the urge to go to Citi Field. That’s where Johan Santana had just thrown the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, and I felt I should be there. It was like a pilgrimage, if a pilgrimage can include the subway. I took the N train to Queensboro Plaza, transferred to the 7, and rode the 13 stops to Mets-Willets Point. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do when I got there.
As it turned out, I walked around the stadium, took a few pictures, and looked for discarded ticket stubs (I didn’t find any, though it was so windy that any that had been left outside the stadium may have blown halfway to Westchester). I heard a couple of guys talking about their co-workers who had left the game early because of the weather (too windy for them?). A vendor was selling, in his words, “no-hitter programs” for $5. They sell programs for each series, not each game, and $5 wasn’t a post-game discount, so if I want one I can get it tomorrow, when I’ll be there for the game. Of course, I wish I had been at this one.
That the Mets, in their 51st season, had their first no-hitter was enough of a relief. But they exorcised plenty of other demons on Friday night as well. The opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, eliminated the Mets in heartbreaking fashion the last time New York made the playoffs, in 2006. The opposing starting pitcher on Friday, Adam Wainwright, struck out Carlos Beltran looking to end Game 7 of that National League Championship Series. Beltran is now a Cardinal, and his at-bat to lead off the sixth appeared to be the first hit against Santana, but it was incorrectly ruled foul just past third base. Yadier Molina, whose ninth-inning home run beat the Mets in that Game 7, was on deck when Santana struck out David Freese to end the game.
It was the 8,020th regular season game for Mets, as many outlets will report, but counting playoffs it was the 8,094th. And why wouldn’t we count the postseason? Had a Mets pitcher thrown a no-hitter in the playoffs we certainly wouldn’t have been talking about the franchise’s lack of a no-no. The announced crowd was 27,069—Santana got 27 outs; the Miracle Mets won the World Series in ’69.
Every no-hitter seems to have a defining defensive play, and this one will be remembered for Mike Baxter’s running catch for the second out in the seventh. Baxter, who grew up in Whitestone, a Queens neighborhood that borders Flushing (the home of the Mets), crashed against the left field wall making the spectacular grab and had to leave the game with an apparent shoulder injury. Five other Mets have played a total of 359 innings in left field this season and I’m not sure any of them make that catch. I’ll never forget the sign on the outfield wall where Endy Chavez made his memorable catch in the previously mentioned playoff game against St. Louis: “THE STRENGTH TO BE THERE.” Just a few panels to the right, Baxter banged against a “WHO BUT W.B. MASON” sign. Mike Baxter, that’s who.
Here is where I’ll admit that I didn’t see Baxter’s catch live. Other than the ninth inning, I didn’t see any of the game live. Given how many Mets games I watch, I’ve always had a fear that I’d miss their first no-hitter—that I’d be on an airplane or at a football game or a wedding. I certainly didn’t think I’d be at a discussion on the future of robotics.
You see, a co-worker of mine had bought a ticket to attend an event in Astoria, Queens—an advance screening of a film followed by a panel discussion. Due to a death in her family, she couldn’t attend, and since I live in Astoria and had no plans, I was guilted into going. I gave thought to the fact that it was Santana against the Cardinals, but I figured I’d still get to see the end of the game. I couldn’t get cell service in the theater, but when the movie ended I stepped outside to check the score on my phone. Before I could load the gamecast, I had texts about the no-hitter. Typically I am very much against discussing no-hitters while they are in progress, per baseball code, but given my situation I had no choice but to tell friends and family to keep me updated, even though I wasn’t sure I’d even see the texts when I returned to the theater for the discussion.
I listened to the panel members talk about how robots can be used to help autistic children and senior citizens recovering from a stroke. It was interesting stuff, but when I got a text saying Santana was through 8, I bolted out of the theater and headed for the nearest bar. Of course the Yankees were on the main television, but a peripheral screen had the Mets (no sound), and I arrived just in time to see Josh Thole strike out to start the bottom of the eighth with the Mets leading 8-0.
As the Mets were retired and SNY stuck with the feed of Santana warming up instead of going to commercial, I wondered whether anyone else in the bar was aware of the no-hitter. Here I was, physically feeling the effects of witnessing such a historic moment—my body felt cold and I couldn’t stop tapping my hands—and everyone around me was eating, drinking, and yapping. But when Matt Holliday’s broken-bat flare to center looked like it might drop to start the ninth, it became clear to me that at least a few people were paying attention. They were some gasps, followed by hardy claps as Andres Torres, who had come into the game when Baxter got hurt, secured the catch. “Looked like a bloop at first,” said the guy next to me at the bar.
Santana went 2-2 on Allen Craig before getting him to fly out to left on a ball you wouldn’t think twice about in a regular situation, but on a windy night, two outs from a no-hitter…No matter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had moved from center, made the catch. Some guy in the bar yelled at his girlfriend for apparently mentioning the no-hitter. I would have shot her a dirty look if not for my behavior throughout the night.
Santana fell behind 3-0 on the next batter, Freese, last season’s World Series MVP, and I’m thinking a walk wouldn’t be terrible, except Santana’s already exceeded his career high for pitches (he finished with 134; remember, he had shoulder surgery last year) and that villain, Molina, is on deck. Santana ran the count full and then threw the pitch that made him a two-time Cy Young winner, a beautiful change-up that Freese swung at and missed.
I stared at the screen in disbelief for a couple of minutes and then made my way to the exit. I saw a guy with his left arm in a sling and said to him, “I hope he isn’t in one tomorrow.”
“What?” he asked.
“Your sling. I hope Johan doesn’t need one tomorrow.”
I left the bar, and without fully realizing it I made my way to Citi Field, arriving 40 minutes after the final out had been recorded. During my travels I thought about all those former Mets who had thrown no-hitters for other teams. Nobody would talk about those anymore.
I watched all the highlights when I got home. Gary Cohen’s “HE struck him out!” call never sounded so good. Howie Rose’s “Put it in the books! In the history books!” was brilliant. I didn’t hear either of those calls live, and that’s OK. Every Mets fan will remember this game in a different way. No Mets fan will ever forget it.