For 29 years, I’ve been a fan of the New York Mets. And for 29 years, I’ve waited for a Met to throw a no-hitter.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Many New Yorkers have followed the Mets during their entire 50-year existence. They, too, have patiently, painfully, awaited the team’s first no-hitter.
Fifty years; 8,019 games, and not a single no-no. Mathematically, the Mets are carnival freaks. Only the Mets and San Diego Padres had never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter, and the Padres debuted in 1969, seven years after New York. Since ’69, the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida (now Miami) Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tampa Bay Rays have all been born. They’ve all thrown no-hitters.
Heck, it had been 37 years since a Mets pitcher had entered the ninth inning without giving up a hit. Nolan Ryan was a former Met – and threw seven no-hitters after New York traded him. Three times, Tom Seaver held a team hitless through eight innings for the Mets, but couldn’t close it out. He finally did so, while wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. Dwight Gooden won a Cy Young with the Mets, and threw his no-hitter with hated Yankees. David Cone was a former Mets standout, and he tossed a friggin’ perfect game in the Bronx. This year, former Mets prospect Philip Humber stabbed our hearts once again: he threw a perfecto for the White Sox.
So when Mets pitcher Johan Santana took the mound in the ninth inning at Citi Field on Friday night, having retired 24 St. Louis Cardinals without allowing a hit … I found myself rooting against him.
Why? After 50 years, I wanted this moment to be perfect. Not necessarily a perfect game, but a pure no-hitter, without dispute. However, these are the Mets. The team has won two World Series, but mostly delivered pain. Nothing is simple.
And without question, Santana had already given up a hit.
The ump, however, blew the call. In top of the sixth inning, Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, a former Met who will always be remembered for looking at a third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship series, ripped a shot over third base, right on line. It clipped the chalk: fair ball. But the umpire called it foul. It wasn’t a simple call, though a two-second replay could have corrected it. Baseball, however, shuns such common-sense technology.
Bottom line: Beltran should have been standing on second base. Instead, he grounded out.
So after waiting for all these years, I couldn’t fully embrace a moment that was tainted. I know what you’re thinking: way to be a downer. Or: whatever, killjoy. Or: what the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you just enjoy history? When I texted some friends about my mixed-feelings, they all responded with something along the lines of “hey, there’s a call like that in every no-hitter.”
I’m not so sure about that. Now, I’m not about to pore over the play-by-play data for all 275 no-hitters in major league history. But even if pitchers tend to get a break or two in these games, so what? Thanks to the blown call, I just can’t get as ecstatic.
Not that I didn’t jump off the couch, raise my arms and yell “yes!” when Santana stuck out David Freese to clinch it. Not that I wasn’t psyched that my six-year-old son, who I’ve raised to love the Mets like I do, fought off sleep to witness a piece of history. Though he cried after my wife’s joyful scream startled him – she’s a Mets fan too – and fell asleep three seconds later.
Come Saturday morning, I won’t tell him about the Beltran controversy. Hopefully, I’ll soon forget about it too. Santana pitched a whale of a ballgame. Mike Baxter, a hometown kid from Queens, made a leaping catch in the seventh to keep the no-hitter alive. And though the moment did not unfold as I had imagined it, I never imagined seeing a New York Mets no-hitter on the books.
For once it’s pretty neat to be a Mets fan. Congrats, Johan. Congrats, New York.