By Rich Coutinho
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I am 51 years old and have seen many of the close ones broken up, but last night at Citi Field Johan Santana climbed the mountain, becoming the first Mets pitcher to fire a no-hitter. And with it he gave the Mets’ organization their first special night of 2012. David Wright said it best when he commented, “Other than Tom Seaver, there is no better person to accomplish this, especially after what he has gone through.”
And lets revisit the Santana journey. He was told by many that he’d never be a great pitcher again, and some knuckleheads in this business even said that he’d never pitch again. They underestimated the competitive fire of Santana and his love of the game. But it was not easy for him. There were months of rehab with some setbacks along the way, but he never wavered in his insistence that he would return to the mound. When I got to Spring Training, I watched every one of Santana’s early bullpen sessions, and I kept thinking to myself that he looked sharp — but the proof would be when he started facing hitters. When he did, I was even more impressed.
That is why when I left Spring Training I was convinced that the Mets would surprise people, because No. 57 was back in the saddle. And as I have said on numerous occasions, that changed everything for the Mets.
“When I arrived in camp, we did not even know if I would come north with the team on Opening Day”, said Santana, “but little by little I began to feel like I belonged. But never in my wildest dreams could I have pictured this.”
Santana accomplished a lot last night, but I get the impression that he did something bigger than throw the first no-hitter in team history. I get the sense that those Mets fans who were sitting on the fence just hopped over it and now are “all in”. The looks on their faces in the stands were priceless. Mets fans have been beat up the last few years, but this was their night — the night they exorcised the “no-hitter demon,” and the night they felt like the baseball world put their team “center stage.”
And quite frankly, they deserve to celebrate.
But this night belongs to Santana, a man who I’ve come to know very well in the past three seasons, and one that loves competing.
But being a great teammate is just as important to him.
One spring day in Port St. Lucie — after all the reporters had left — Santana and I had a discussion about being a Met, and what that means to him.
“You must understand”, said Santana, “that not helping this team killed me last year because more than anything, I want to be in the playoffs. That is still my goal.”
And his Mets team woke up this morning one game out of first place in the NL East, and only one team in the entire league has more wins than them. Santana is a big reason for that — as is his teammate R.A. Dickey — but there is a specialness about this team that is becoming more clearly defined each day. They have had their share of injuries, but it does not seem to faze them — they just plug in a player and get a play like Mike Baxter, who preserved the no-hitter with a circus catch.
As this team celebrated with Johan Santana on the mound, it occurred to me that it might not be the last mound celebration we see here this year. The Mets have faced tough teams and have responded. They beat another tough pitcher in Adam Wainwright last night.
And so on a warm June night in the summer of 2012, the Mets may have officially shown their fanbase that there are good times ahead. Getting their first no-hitter might just be the tip of the iceberg.
Where were you and how did you react when Johan struck out David Freese to complete the no-hitter? Share your stories in the comments section below…