If you look at the long list of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters, often it's a fluke as much as it is a sign of greatness. Yes, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter and Justin Verlander have tossed an unblemished game, but so have Ernie Koob, Ed Head, Jack Kralick, Don Nottebart, Tom Phoebus, Mike Warren and Bud Smith. So the five decades of abuse, ridicule and jokes hurled at the New York Mets' expense has been a little overwrought. It's as if they've never had a batter hit for a cycle or a player perform some other curiosity -- but, of course, a no-hitter is more of an accomplishment, more of an honor and more impressive, as flukey as it may be. So Johan Santana's no-hit game on Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in Mets history. That black cat that scampered around the Chicago Cubs' on-deck circle in 1969 may have been the symbolic downfall of the Mets' rival that magical season, but the mythological monkey that's been giving the Amazin's backaches for half a century has finally disappeared.
In the seventh game of the 1964 World Series, Bob Gibson entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 7-3 lead over the New York Yankees. He struck out Tom Tresh to open the inning, gave up a home run to Clete Boyer, whiffed Johnny Blanchard and then coughed up another long ball, this time to Phil Linz. But Cardinals manager Johnny Keane had no thoughts of bringing in a reliever: "I never considered taking him out. I had a commitment to his heart." Gibson ended the game and the series by getting Bobby Richardson to pop out to second. And that's what Terry Collins had with Santana, a commitment to his heart. The Mets' ace, coming off shoulder surgery and approaching his career high in pitches, let alone his season high and having surpassed his supposed season cap, was left in with a chance to make team history. Collins was rewarded for his decision, when Santana struck out David Freese with a changeup. But there was never really a decision to be made, though, as Santana was not coming out of the game. No way. No how. Not in the name of Tom Seaver, the son and the holy ghost.
Seaver was the last and only Met to enter the ninth inning with a no-hitter, and he did it three times. The first occured in 1969, but Cub Jim Qualls foiled the Franchise's bid for a perfect game with a soft liner to left-center with one out. The next season it was Leron Lee of the San Diego Padres who rained on Seaver's parade, again with one out. And then in 1975, those Cubs did it again, when Joe Wallis singled with two outs in the ninth (though the Mets had failed to score in the 0-0 game, which the Cubs eventually won in the 11th inning with Skip Lockwood being the loser after Seaver threw 10 scoreless innings).
Friday night's game was the 8,020th game in Met history, which is nice round number that we can now always remember. One of the fun (or torturous) games Met fans have played over the years is this:"Which pitcher would you want to have throw the first no-hitter in Met history?" The all-world talent of a Dwight Gooden. Of course. The popular folk-hero of an R.A. Dickey? Yes. A talented, young up-and-comer like Jon Niese? Sure. But what if it was Tom Glavine or Steve Trachsel or Oliver Perez? Some nobody. Or someone Met fans loath. Well, Santana couldn't have been a better choice. He's the Mets' ace. He's the Mets' leader. And the trade that brought him here will now always be viewed as a success (as if it weren't already). He did something magical that no one else has ever done for the team, and that includes Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, David Cone, Frank Viola, Al Leiter, Mike Hampton and Pedro Martinez.
Of course, Santana had a lot of help. Josh Thole came off the disabled list, and now the catcher will always be a part of Mets lore. Mike Baxter made the (painful) catch that will forever live on in highlight reels and memories. Lucas Duda hit a home run and drove in four runs. Daniel Murphy had three RBIs. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Omar Quintanilla almost collided, but the left fielder made a key catch in the eighth inning. Bloopers that looked like they might drop in were caught. And, of course, Santana was helped by the third-base umpire. Was Carlos Beltran's sixth-inning liner fair? Yes, but was Keith Moreland's hit back in 1984 really an error by Ray Knight, which would have given Gooden a no-hitter against the Cubs in his rookie season? The answer is also yes. So maybe this is a cosmic makeup call. And how many other no-no's were assisted by blown umpire calls or blown official scorer's rulings? So is Santana's historic game tainted or should it come with an asterisk? Of course not.
The Mets have had 35 one-hitters in their 50-plus seasons, and now Johan Santana, in the 350th game of his career and 136th win, has given the team a gift, the first no-hitter in franchise history. He went out of his way to continually credit his teammates after the last out was recorded, proving that this milestone couldn't have been accomplished by a better name on the Mets' pitching staff. Santana struck out eight Cardinals and walked five while throwing a career-high 134 pitches. And does it mean anything that Beltran and Adam Wainwright were on the other side? It's most likely just coincidence, as these things happen. The Mets' first-ever game came against the Cardinals, and now St. Louis is the opponent in their first no-hitter. Again, nothing but coincidence.
But the emotions are not coincidental, or indifferent, or prosaic -- "Finally, that is the greatest feeling ever." Johan Santana pitched arguably the greatest game in Met history and he summed it up best as well.