It’s December 22, which means we’ve survived the end of the world. But what is coming to an end is our countdown of the Amazin’ Ten Mets Games of 2012. So before you go out and buy yourself a new Mayan calendar, let’s reminisce on the best game from the year that was. By taking a look at Amazin’ Games #10 through #2, every New York fan should be able to figure out which game we’re talking about. It was a history-making performance that no Met had ever accomplished. It had something to do with failing to get a base hit, a few free passes to first base, and a kid from Whitestone, Queens. At this point I’ll put out of misery those of you guessing Mike Baxter’s five walks in five plate appearances in San Diego on August 4. Close, but no cigar. The hero of our actual #1 game, however, earned himself a cigar 50+ years in the making.
#1 – No-Han (June 1)
The Mets’ Friday night series-opening matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals was already significant for another reason: longtime Met Carlos Beltran, named the greatest center fielder in team history by SNY, was making his first trip back to Citi Field after being traded to San Francisco for Zack Wheeler the previous July. All the fanfare and analysis was focused on how the Flushing faithful would receive Beltran in his first at-bat. Carlos’s return is met with a mostly positive reaction, one very different from that of another high-profile return home. But after that moment of sentiment it is Johan Santana who switches on his own spotlight.
Santana starts strong in his first inning after a gem of an outing six days prior against the Padres. He goes through the Redbirds 1-2-3 in the 1st, including a strikeout of Beltran. After a quick out to begin the 2nd he runs into some trouble, walking David Freese and Yadier (Freakin’) Molina back-to-back. Johan settles down quickly and strikes out both Matt Adams and Tyler Greene to end the threat. His 3rd inning is a piece of cake, the three outs coming on just nine pitches.
At this point I’m sitting with my dad in the computer room of my childhood home in West Lafayette, Indiana, watching the SNY broadcast through that godsend that is MLB.TV. I turn to him and I teasingly say, “a third of the way there…” He chuckles. We’re both in on the joke. You’re not supposed to look ahead so far in the game, but for me and any other frequent visitor of NoNoHitters.com, it is a force of habit. After 50 complete seasons and two months of a 51st, after 8,019 “Not Today, Boss” moments, it is impossible not to wonder if this, Game #8,020, would be The One.
Johan walks the leadoff man in the 4th but gets the next three in order. His offense finally gets him some run support in the bottom of the frame: Kirk Nieuwenhuis singles, David Wright doubles, Lucas Duda sac flies, Daniel Murphy triples. 2-0 Mets. Santana walks the leadoff man again the 5th but responds with two strikeouts and a lineout. Halfway there, livin’ on more than just a prayer, Mr. Jovi.
Things get hairy in the 6th inning as Beltran takes a 1-0 fastball from Santana and slashes a line drive down the third base line. Foul is the call from third base umpire Adrian Johnson, while the second opinion known as instant replay shows a very different outcome. Next year Major League Baseball will expand instant replay to include plays just like that, and the sight of the chalk line being kicked up by a baseball will now always be called correctly upon further review. In the summer of 2012, however, it would stand as called. Johan and the Mets catch the luckiest of breaks and the former Cy Young laureate responds with another 1-2-3 inning. After such an obvious nod of approval from the ever-fickle Baseball Gods, Mets fans start to think that maybe, just maybe, this will be The Day.
More run support comes in the bottom of the 6th as Lucas Duda pounds a three-run homer over the former Mo’ Zone in right center. Up 5-0, Johan goes into the 7th with a lead that in any other situation would be quite comfortable. With one out in the inning, Yadier Molina crushes a 3-1 fastball towards the wall in left field. Molina broke the Mets’ hearts six years before, and for about four seconds he appears to have done it again. Mike Baxter, playing for his hometown team, playing with the weight of knowledge of the 8,019 previous games, wills himself toward Molina’s fast-falling line drive. Under the shadow of the illustrious number 41, Baxter twists his left arm across his body to receive the ball. He stumbles and crashes shoulder-first into the “W” of the W.B. Mason sign printed on the padding of the wall. Baxter has saved history with his heroic lunge, but lies in a crumpled heap on the warning track. Mike Baxter would miss two months with a displaced right collarbone and fractured rib cage cartilage, but the only morphine the Whitestone Kid needed on this night was for Johan Santana to finish the job.
After 107 pitches through 7 innings, however, Mets fans are wondering if he would get that chance. Following a long wait as New York taps on three more runs in the bottom of the 7th (including a two-run single from Daniel Murphy that makes it 8-0), Santana comes out to start the 8th inning. After a flyout and strikeout, Johan walks Rafael Furcal on his 118th pitch. As Terry Collins trudges out to the mound for a conference, it’s a no-win situation for the Mets’ skipper. If he leaves Santana in the game too long, he risks harming his prized pitcher who is only 20 months removed from major shoulder surgery. If he takes Santana out, he risks being vilified for costing his long-suffering franchise a chance at pitching’s highest single-game honor. So with the weight of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Mike Scott, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Hideo Nomo, and Philip Humber bearing down on him, Terry Collins leaves Johan Santana on the mound to go after what the seven men above could only do after they left Flushing Meadows. He gets Beltran on four pitches and no controversy to end the inning. Three outs to go.
Johan’s first pitch of the 9th is a changeup to Matt Holiday, who breaks his bat lining the ball softly to center. Andres Torres ever-so nearly overruns the ball, but reaches up and snags it. Two to go.
Allen Craig gives New Yorkers heart attacks by blooping a 2-2 changeup into shallow left. Nieuwenhuis races under it and squeezes his glove tight. One to go.
David Freese takes three straight balls, Santana’s 129th, 130th, and 131st pitches of the night. Johan zings a fastball in for a called strike one. Freese fouls back a changeup for strike two. Santana takes a deep breath and sends his 134th pitch toward the waiting glove of Josh Thole. Freese flails his bat desperately at the low changeup.
The yelp of a “YES!” from Keith Hernandez says just as much as Gary Cohen’s call on SNY:
He struck him out! It has happened! In their 51st season, Johan Santana has thrown the first no-hitter in New York Mets history!
Over the next few minutes every New York Mets fan from Long Island to Long Beach waited, expecting to wake up from their perfect dreams to find Bobby Ewing in the shower and an 8,020th “Not Today, Boss.” But after seeing the team rush to the mound mob him, after seeing him shake hands with his coaches and the manager who gave him a chance, after seeing Kevin Burkhardt walk onto the field to interview him, we all knew it was real when Johan Santana told each and every one of us,
I’m very happy, and happy for you guys! Finally, the first one!
The statistics will be with us all forever (9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K), but for me at least, the indelible memory of that night came after Dad and I finished basking in our euphoria. I went online to check that daily tracker of torment, NoNoHitters.com. It had crashed.
That web site is now obsolete, its counter forever stuck at 8,019, because before it could turn to 8,020, Johan Santana said “Today, Boss,” and pitched a no-hitter for the New York Mets.
June 1: the most Amazin’ game of 2012, and one of the most Amazin’ in 51 years of New York Mets baseball. Our countdown is now complete. There may be some debate about which games should go in the previous nine slots, but there is no doubt that the game at the top is there with a strong, resounding, Keith Hernandez-approved, “YES!”
Amazin’ Ten of 2012
#1 – No-Han (June 1)