It was an overnight success, after only 51 seasons and 8,020 regular season games, as Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets' franchise.
It was an overnight success, after only 51 seasons and 8,020 regular season games.
Johan Santana’s control was uncharacteristically lousy all night. The home plate umpire/crew chief, with 17 years of experience, was rarely giving him the inside corner. Santana was constantly going to three-ball counts. Though he had walked only one hitter in each of his last four starts, Santana walked five tonight.
Santana’s change-up looked great, with its bottom dropping out late, and he had a great speed differential of up to 17 mph between his fastball and his change (91/74), but the patient Cardinals hitters, the best in the league, laid off the latter much of the night, which ran up a lot of counts. However, with two out in the ninth, and two strikes on LCS and World Series hero David Reese, Reese chased a sinking, 78 mph change-up to strike out, ending the game.
And if the Cardinals were often laying off of tantalizing, late-breaking change-ups, they were swinging at inside fastballs out of the zone, which opened up the outside corner, contributing to Santana ending with eight Ks.
However, if one pitch was special, it was Santana’s slider. It had been very iffy this season, and in some games he’d hardly thrown it, but tonight it was the best I’ve ever seen it.
Santana threw 134 pitches, nine more than his previous career high of 125, in a shutout on the next to last game of 2008, the last season he played without going on the DL. (Santana completed the 2008 game because the Mets’ bullpen had blown seven would-be wins for him that season. The previous year in Minnesota, the Twins’ pen had not blown a single win for him.)
Every no-hitter turns, for better or worse, on a few dramatic plays and calls.
In the eighth inning, Mets reserve shortstop Omar Quintanilla did everything in his power to ruin the no-hitter.
Rookie center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis had just been moved over to left to replace the injured Baxter. On a dying pop-up to shallow left field that is Nieuwenhuis’ ball all the way, he screams at the top of his lungs, calling off Quintanilla, but the latter ignores him, and just misses running into Nieuwenhuis, who somehow manages to maintain his concentration, and make the catch.
But the biggest play in keeping Santana’s no-no going was a blown call by third base umpire Adrian Johnson in the sixth on a hard ground ball by former Met great Carlos Beltran that hit the chalk, and went over the third base bag fair, but which Johnson called foul.
Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, not known—say the Mets’ announcers; I wouldn’t know—for arguing with umps, got in Johnson’s face, and Johnson screamed even louder and longer than Oquendo. Rookie Cards’ manager Mike Matheny ran out to protect his coach, and it looked for sure like both men would get tossed.
Mets announcer Ron Darling observed, “A young umpire trying to stand his ground, on unsteady ground.”
Surprisingly, Johnson didn’t toss either man.
On a later play Darling said, dripping sarcasm, “David Wright rips one down the left field line foul. Adrian Johnson got that call perfect.”
In the eighth inning, Santana hit the Cardinals Tyler Greene with a pitch on a knuckle or pinkie, but the home plate umpire missed it, and called Greene back. Greene got caught looking.
In any event, a hit batsman does not negate a no-hitter.
It looked like Santana couldn’t possibly pull off a no-no. He has a surgically repaired shoulder capsule that cost him the end of 2010 and all of last season. His manager, Terry Collins, had said that Santana was on a pitch limit of 110 that could possibly go up to 112, but Santana was throwing an ungodly number of pitches.
In the seventh inning, when Santana had over 110 pitches under his belt, Ron Darling said, “I just think this is a runaway train,” as in: In spite of Collins’ stated pitch limit, he can’t take Santana out.
That inning, after a clearly fatigued Santana threw a wild, 77-mph change-up high and outside, to walk Rafael Furcal, with pitch 117, Collins ran out to the mound.
“He’s taking his temperature,” said Darling, himself an old pitcher who’d had several excellent seasons with the Mets during their mid-to-late ‘80s glory years, and who has a 1986 World Series ring to show for it. “[Santana] can’t tell him the truth.”
Collins barely stopped to give Santana a light chuck under his pitching elbow, before running right back to the dugout.
Santana was up to 122 pitches, going into the ninth.
(The following quotes are out of order.)
“[At the mound] He just asked me how I was feeling, and I told him I was fine.”
“[At another point in the game], He just came over to me in the dugout and told me I was his hero, and I told him I was not coming out of the game.”
“We didn’t even know if I was going to break camp with the team. We didn’t know if I was going to be here Opening Day.
“I was trying to establish my fastball, so I could throw my changeup and slider.”
Santana responded to a reporter’s question as to whether he had ever thrown a no-hitter at any level, “I don’t think I ever threw a no-hitter in video games!”
“My night was a rollercoaster.”
Asked about the velocity on his fastball, Santana answered, “If it’s 85, 89, 90, I don’t care, because I know what it takes to win.”
During his salad days with the Twins (2000-2007), when he won two Cy Young Awards, the 33-year-old Santana threw in the mid-90s, but early in his tenure with the Mets, he was lucky to hit 92, and several injuries later, he opened this season with an 85-mpr “fast ball.” He has since gotten stronger, and averaged 89-90 tonight, and at the end of the game topped off at 91.
Santana has now thrown back-to-back shutouts, but he needs a rest.
Seven Mets pitchers went on to throw 14 no-hitters for other teams: Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan (an all-time record seven no-nos) and Tom Seaver; Cy Young Award winners Mike Scott, David Cone (a perfect game), and Doc Gooden; Hideo Nomo (two) and Philip Humber (perfect).
The last time a Met pitcher had made to the ninth inning without giving up a hit, had been Tom Seaver in September, 1975. Seaver, the only previous Met pitcher to take a no-no to the ninth, did so three times.
Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright, the possessor of the league’s best curve ball, who is himself coming back this year from Tommy John surgery, was great through three innings, but everything started falling apart in the fourth, as his curve ball went from 12-6 to hanging around at 3 o’clock, and the Mets’ hitters started teeing off on him. Slugger Lucas Duda exacted the most damage, knocking in four runs with a sacrifice fly and a three-run dinger. That gave Duda three home runs in five at-bats over two games.
A Worried, Emotional Skipper
From about the sixth inning on, Mets skipper Terry Collins looked anything but happy. Although his ace was working on a no-hitter, the pitcher was throwing way too pitches, which was forcing a Hobson’s choice on the manager: ‘Do I take my ace out of the game, and risk alienating him and causing a schism among my players, or do I leave him in the game, and risk his suffering a potentially career-ending injury, and wrecking the team’s prospects this season?’
At the postgame press conference, Collins said: “In five days if his arm isn’t feeling good…,” trailing off.
“And I dropped the 115 figure on him [before the game], but I couldn’t take him out, I just couldn’t take him out. I shouldn’t be sitting here [at the press conference, [Santana should be].
[To a reporter] “Brian, you just don’t jeopardize the entire organization for one inning.
“He deserves this chance, he’s earned it, but if he’s hurt, when all’s said and done.…” Collins stopped, and shook with emotion.
“Like I said, he’s the one who needs to be sitting up here.”
Collins on Santana’s consoling of teammate Manny Acosta, when the shell-shocked reliever was sent down earlier this week: “It’s not this job … but it is his job.”
Someone [one of the announcers?] said of Santana coming back from his injury and shoulder surgery that some people were thinking, “He’ll just be another guy, a subpar guy, just another guy who came back from surgery, and is getting paid a lot of money.”
Afterwards, the Teammates Speak
David Wright, the star third baseman who is the longtime face of the Mets said, “I don’t think anyone had the courage to take the ball out of his hand….
“I guess once every 51 years.
“I was manicuring third base like I was making a putt to win the Masters. You don’t want to be the guy to boot a ball, to make him face another batter.” [Errors do not affect a no-hitter.]
Pitcher R.A. Dickey told of watching the last three innings with some team buddies.
“What’s he going to do, Nickeas? What’s he going to do, Benny? We’re all managing.
“I was on the bench, not moving or twitching a muscle,” except for the ones in his jaw, as he chewed on a towel, Jerry Tarkanian-style.
“That ball [Mike] Baxter caught, he’ll go down in the anals [sic] of Mets history, for saving that game.”
“I was just happy that his [Santana’s] arm is still on.” [N.S.: Maybe.]
For his part, Baxter was properly humble.
“It was a great night for the Mets, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“It’s his night.
“I’m o.k.; I’ll be fine. We’ll do some more things [run some more tests] tomorrow.”
The folks at SNY displayed related facts on the screen:
35 one-hitters thrown by Mets pitchers
Six no-hitters thrown against the Mets
13 [sic] no-nos thrown by former Mets
For those readers who get the Mets’ cable station, SNY, the game will be replayed on Saturday at 6 a.m. & 11 a.m., in “fast forward,” with parts missing. Complete game re-runs will air on Saturday at noon and Monday at 7: 30 p.m.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.