Well check another item off the bucket list – one that I was beginning to think would never happen, and definitely not by my favorite team. Last night I was lucky enough to be at Citi Field with my two sons, Bobby and Danny and witness Johan Santana’s no-hitter. It was the first no-hitter in the 50+ year history of the New York Mets coming in game #8020.
When the St. Louis Cardinals went down in the first, as expected, I turned to my sons and said, “Johan’s got a no-hitter through one”. As anyone who has attended a game with me knows, I always watch for that first hit. In every one of the hundreds of games I’ve attended before, I would inevitably end up saying, “well there goes the no-hitter”. That’s not to say that I’m not superstitious. If it makes it into the 5th, then I stop talking about it. I’ve come close before: Tom Seaver on 1971 vs. the Pirates, Bobby Jones in the 2000 NLDS, John Maine’s 5 inning rain shortened game against the Braves in 2007, and the 5 pitcher combined game against the Rockies in 2008.
Last night, Johan and Adam Wainwright matched zeroes for 4 innings. The last comment I made to the boys was that Johan would need to throw 135 pitches to complete this one – not likely since the most pitched he had ever thrown (before the surgery) was around 125.
A problem with superstitions is that you end up putting yourself into some weird situations. None of three of us moved out of our seats while Johan was on the mound and we never went back to a concession stand line after inning one. In fact, even though it started to drizzle and got a little cold, I refused to put my jacket on and cover my Santana jersey. I have to admit, I had goose bumps and was shaking a little. A combination of the cold and the excitement.
The three things that we worried about most were Carlos Beltran (this was his return to Citi Field with a lukewarm reception at best), Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright. No need to go into the details and somewhat interesting plot twists for diehard Mets fans. Non-Mets fans wouldn’t get it.
The first bizarre incident of the evening was when the group of women (with southern accents) who were sitting next to us, up and left in the 5th inning. They had been going back and forth to the concession stand every half inning but were very polite and apologetic. As they rose in unison in the 5th, they apologized again and said that this was the last time they would disturb us as they were heading back to their hotel. Really?
The next event was the Beltran line drive down the left field line. I am not going to say anything more about it other than bad calls are a part of the game. Ask Jeffery Mayer, Joaquin Andujar, Fred Merkle, et al. To those that want to discredit Johan’s accomplishment because of this – get over it!
When I mentioned Wainwright, Beltran and Yadier ‘bleeping’ Molina I was alluding to game 7 of the 2006 NLCS (I know that I said I wouldn’t get into it). I was at that game with the family and witnessed what to this day is the greatest catch I’ve seen live by Endy Chavez to rob Scott Rolen of a 2-run homerun, turning into a double play. Chavez’s catch was overshadowed by Molina’s homerun, and Wainwright’s striking out Beltran looking to end the game with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. In the 7th inning of last night’s game I saw what is the 2nd greatest catch I’ve seen. Mike Baxter made a great catch to preserve Johan’s no-hitter in the 7th. It may not have been quite as spectacular as Endy’s, however, the fact that he held onto it as he crashed hard in the wall displacing his right collarbone next to his sternum and fracturing rib cartilage was remarkable. It was one of the gutsiest plays I’ve seen.
The next bizarre moment came at the end of the 8th inning. After the Mets were retired, a couple a row in front of got up to leave. Incredulously, I asked if they were leaving. To which they replied “yes”. I couldn’t help myself and responded with “Really? When we’re on the verge of seeing something that hasn’t happened in the 50 year history of the Mets?”. They’re answer was, “we’re from England”. To which Bobby said, “that’s the worst reason I’ve ever heard”.
Johan got stronger as the game went on. Thank goodness the 8th and 9th went quickly although the 9th did have its moments. Matt Holliday’s broken bat floater looked like it might drop in before Andres Torres rushed in to grab it. Allen Craig’s flair to left was caught by an on rushing Kirk Nieuwenhuis to get to the 2nd out. After going 3-0 to 2011 World Series hero, David Freese, we glanced at the on deck circle to see Molina standing there. Our only thought was no, not again. Johan then battled back to 3-2 and the small crowd (although I’m sure 300,000 people or more will say that they were there) was in a frenzy. As Freese swung and missed at pitch #134 for strike three, Josh Thole turned to the umpire as if to confirm “game over?”. The celebration then erupted.
This was the greatest pitching performance I have ever witnessed in person, narrowly eclipsing game #161 of 2008 when Johan, on 3 days rest, on a knee that was to require off-season surgery, pitched a 3 hitter to keep the Mets post-season hope alive.
Danny said it best – this was reminiscent of Kevin Costner’s, “For The Love of The Game”.
We stayed around for a while after the game and just soaked in the atmosphere and took some pictures for the scrapbook. As we finally left the jubilant stadium we needed to pass through a group that started to walk to their buses just as we approached. As the line moved past, we became part of the longest high five line that we have ever been a part of. It was a fitting end to the night.
For the numerologists, the superstitious, and conspiracy theorists: the Mets runs scored – 8, hits – 8, the sum of the digits of Johan’s pitches – 8 (1+3+4), the number of Santana strikeouts – 8, the number on the jersey of the fan that crashed the party – 8, the number on the dugouts, outfield wall and jersey patches – Gary Carter’s #8. Coincidence? Maybe. By the way, Gary lost his battle this year at the young age of 57. Santana’s uniform number – 57! By the way, remember the three players from the 2006 NLCS that I mentioned: Wainwright (#50), Beltran (#3), and Yadier Molina (#4) – 57!!! We miss you, Kid.
As amazing as this all was, let’s not forget that they still are the Mets. While running from the bullpen to join the celebration, reliever, Ramon Ramirez, strained his hamstring and landed himself on the DL.