Even now, as Saturday morning turns into Saturday afternoon, I'm still not thoroughly convinced that what I witnessed on Friday evening actually happened. Some have compared the events that resulted in Johan Santana throwing the first no-hitter in New York Mets history to a plot found in a film script. This wasn't just your average "feel good" movie. The first no-hitter in Mets history was, as it would have to be, an unbelievable Saturday afternoon Lifetime flick, one containing a plot that, if you think about it for even a second, could never possibly happen in real life.
While celebrating the 50th anniversary of their existence as a Major League Baseball franchise, the Mets were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, the first team the Amazins ever faced in a MLB regular season contest. The Mets were facing the Cardinals, the team that broke the hearts of New York baseball fans by winning the deciding game of the 2006 National League Championship Series at Shea Stadium. That series ended when Carlos Beltran struck out looking on a beautiful curveball thrown by Adam Wainwright. Beltran, seen as a villain by many Mets fans to this day for not taking a hack at the pitch that ended New York's best chance to win a World Series since 1986, made his first ever return to Citi Field on Friday night since departing the Mets. On Friday evening, he was wearing a St. Louis uniform, and Wainwright, the man who got the better of Beltran on that cool October night six years ago, was starting for the Cardinals.
Santana, lucky to even be in Major League Baseball following shoulder surgery in 2010, didn't appear to have anything close to his best stuff in the early portions of the game. He was erratic, he walked multiple batters, and his fastball was lacking some zip. Nothing about Friday night screamed "no-hitter." The outs just kept coming, though, through the fourth and fifth innings.
Then came the sixth inning, the point where the script went from "this is kind of nice" to "there's no way anybody will believe this is possible." Beltran, who got a nice ovation from a grateful Mets crowd when he stepped up to the plate for the first time on Friday, hit a line drive down the third base line, and the ball struck the very outside edge of the foul-line chalk. Umpire Adrian Johnson immediately and incorrectly called it a foul ball, Beltran grounded out on the next pitch of the at-bat, and the no-hitter was safe.
Then came the seventh, where the story changed from "there's no way anybody will believe this is possible" to "he's actually going to pull this off." Yadier Molina, the man who hit the game-winning two-run homer in the top of the ninth of Game 7 of the '06 NLCS, launched a fly ball deep to left field, close to the spot where his home run cleared the fence six years ago. Mike Baxter, a Queens native, raced back and caught the ball before sacrificing his body to the outfield wall. Baxter was forced to leave the game due to a shoulder injury, but he never dropped the ball until knowing the no-hitter was safe, not even as he lay face-first on the ground while experiencing what I can only imagine was a significant amount of discomfort.
The fairytale doesn't end there. Manager Terry Collins, who had Santana on a pitch count no higher than 115, went to his pitcher in the dugout during the seventh inning. "You're my hero," Collins told Santana. All that was missing was some overly-dramatic piano music and a closeup of the two men right before they shared a brotherly embrace. Santana, who completed his no-hitter on pitch 134, wouldn't have left the game at gunpoint, and his manager had little interest in standing in history's way.
And the rest, as they say, was indeed history. Gone, now, are the "if, not when" discussions regarding the Mets ever having a single pitcher finish a game without giving up a single hit. Outside of searching for stats on the streak that is no more or the desire to have a laugh, Mets fans no longer have a need for NoNoHitters.com, the website that has documented the team's inability to capture what was a very elusive no-no.
8,019 total games. Over 50 years without a single no-hitter. 35 one-hitters in franchise history. In just a few hours on a June Friday night, Santana and the Mets made all stats and jokes about the subject, not to mention the wait, worth it. In the postgame on-the-field interview, the always classy Santana tossed it right back to the fans, saying "I'm happy for you guys." To "us guys," long-suffering fans who cheer on the little brother of New York professional baseball summer after summer, Santana will now and forevermore be a Mets legend, one mentioned alongside the likes of Seaver, Carter and Piazza. Pro sports are about championships, of course, but they're also about those unforgettable moments of pure joy that stick with you long after the last champagne bottle has been emptied. Santana gave all Mets fans such a moment on Friday night.