As I suspect was the case for numerous Met fans—since the day they were born or otherwise—it took me over a week to process that what seemed so long impossible finally happened. It took a mere 8,119 games before a Met threw a no-hitter. And it couldn’t have been thrown by a nicer guy except, maybe, for Tom Seaver. Who just so happens to have lost one of the seemingly infinite Met no-hit bids when Jimmy Qualls, bearing no other reason for fame, broke up his bid in 1969.
And it took very little time for my first suspicion to bear fruit, after manager Terry Collins, who agonised over letting Johan Santana go the distance and finish his jewel against the St. Louis Cardinals, knowing Santana’s health history and what was missed in 2011, announced that he’d give his marksman a couple of extra days rest before sending him out again. Santana himself had proclaimed good health and a solid bullpen session between starts, so I wondered whether Collins—whose performance this year just might be lining him up for a Manager of the Year award—hadn’t overshot his mark.
Turned out that he had. The Yankees jumped all over an over-rested Santana a week after Santana vapourised fifty-plus years of Met pitching frustration, launching their way to a three-game sweep that continued what the Washington Nationals, taking two of three prior, started earlier in the week. The sweep put a dent in the Mets’ otherwise fascinating 2012 emergence as a National League East power playing slightly over their own heads collectively.
Collins made no bones or excuses about it. He manned up, faced the press, and said point blank it was his fault for resting Santana the extra days. He’s come a long way from the exposed hot wire who managed himself out of Houston and Anaheim before the turn of the century.
But back to the no-hitter heard ’round the world. Around Citi Field, they called him Nohan Santana. In the clubhouse, thanking his teammates—and especially Mike Baxter, whose running-down catch of Yadier Molina’s seventh-inning drive kept the no-no alive and sent Baxter into the wall and onto the disabled list—Santana let his usual modesty dissipate for one moment of unapologetic joy. “Yeah, baby!” he bellowed. “Believe it!”
When Santana punched out David Freese, last year’s World Series superman, to finish off the Cardinals, it was a flourish even the most dreamy of Met fans couldn’t have imagined. They might sooner have imagined the first Met no-hitter coming against a ho-hum club with the final out at the expense of maybe a ho-hum hitter. Who’d have thought it would come against the defending world champions, with the finishing touch against the guy who earned the Series MVP with a performance from somewhere out of The Twilight Zone?
Other than the purported blown call on Carlos Beltran’s would-have-been double (I’d have had a hard time calling it myself, since when the ball hit the chalk it was far closer to the foul side), maybe the lone rap on the Santana no-no was the five walks. Some rap. It didn’t seem to bother anyone when Sandy Koufax walked five en-route no-hitting the Original Mets almost fifty years to the day earlier. And nobody is taking anything away from Johnny Vander Meer walking eight in the second of his back-to-back no-hitters.
When St. Louis Browns rookie Bobo Holloman pitched a no-hitter in his first major league start (poor Holloman would be back in the minors before season’s end) in 1951, he, too, walked five. When Cincinnati Reds ace Jim Maloney (arguably their best pitcher in the mid-1960s, until shoulder trouble compromised his career before a torn Achilles tendon ended it) took ten innings to no-hit the Chicago Cubs in 1965, he walked ten. (A few years later, against the Houston Astros, Maloney walked five while no-hitting them . . . the day before Houston’s Don Wilson would no-hit the Reds for his second career no-no.) Hall of Famer Jim Palmer walked six while no-hitting the Oakland Athletics in 1969. Nolan Ryan’s second and fourth of his seven no-hitters featured four walks each; his third featured eight. Future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson walked six while no-hitting the Detroit Tigers in 1990. Dwight Gooden (one of those ex-Mets who moved on to pitch a no-no) walked six in his no-no.
Already, Santana traveling in company ranging from distinguished to extinguished.
Howard Ehmke is remembered best for his thirteen-strikeout World Series performance when he was at the end of his major league career. He isn’t that well remembered for throwing a no-hitter, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, against the team for whom he’d nail that Series jewel, the Philadelphia Athletics. Ehmke walked five in his no-no, too, against six strikeouts. Ted Lyons, one of the few reasons to watch the post-scandal Chicago White Sox of the mid-1920s, walked four while no-hitting the Red Sox in 1926.
What about no-hitting a World Series entrant, never mind champion, the season after they appeared in a Series? Carl Hubbell brought that one off in 1929, no-hitting the defending National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Tex Carleton, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, flattened the defending champion Reds in 1940. A year later, Lon Warneke of the Cardinals would flatten the defending world champion Reds. He, too, walked five during his jewel. Dick Fowler of the A’s dispatched the defending American League champion St. Louis Browns (yes, Virginia, there really was such a team, once) in 1945. Vern Bickford of the Boston Braves walked five while taking care of the Dodgers in 1950. The second of Virgil Trucks’s (Detroit Tigers) two 1952 no-hitters came on the Yankees’ dime.
And leave us not forget Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series: He beat the defending world champions in the process.
Hoyt Wilhelm is a Hall of Fame relief pitcher, but once upon a time he was a starter. And, once upon a time, he, too, threw a no-hitter. In 1958. Against the defending American League champion Yankees. The knuckleball specialist, by the way, walked only two. Koufax’s second no-no (1963) came at the expense of the defending National League champion San Francisco Giants. Tom Phoebus of the Baltimore Orioles no-hit the defending AL champion Red Sox in 1968, not long before Gaylord Perry of the Giants no-hit the defending world champion Cardinals—the day before Ray Washburn of the Cardinals no-hit the Giants, all this the year before Maloney and Wilson pitched their back-to-back ballets.
Ken Holtzman’s second of two career no-hitters came at the expense of the defending NL champion Reds in 1971. So did Rick Wise’s (Philadelphia Phillies) no-no the same season. Jim Bibby’s (another ex-Met—well, Met product, anyway—to throw a no-hitter, alas) 1973 no-no came on the dime of the defending World Series champion A’s. So did Dick Bosman’s (Cleveland) in 1974. Terry Mulholland of the Phillies no-hit the defending NL champion Giants in 1990. Another team of defending Giants fell to Kevin Millwood (Phillies) in 2003. Mark Buehrle’s perfect game took care of the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.
On the other hand, there’s a no-hitter thrown by two pitchers combining, on a defending World Series champion, in which their team lost—Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Orioles pulled that one off, losing 2-1 to the Tigers in 1967. And let’s not forget Bo Belinsky. In 1962, the Los Angeles Angels rookie/playboy won his fourth straight major league start by no-hitting the Orioles. A month an a half later, the toast of Hollywood was toast on the losing end when Earl Wilson of the Red Sox no-hit the Angels.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Santana probably couldn’t care less. It was enough for him to end half a century of Mets absence from the no-hit rolls pitching it, as he phrased it to a wild Citi Field crowd, “in the best city for baseball.” For a guy whose career threatened to be ended by shoulder trouble just a year or so earlier, Santana was being too modest. It was a special performance. By a genuinely great pitcher. Against a bona-fide contender and defending Series champion. With a deep meaning for fans of the team whose uniform isn’t such a laughing matter this season, anyway.
That’s something nobody can take from us Met fans. Since the day they were born, or otherwise.