By Steve Silverman
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New York, NY (WFAN) - One of the most confounding streaks in baseball history came to an end last night when Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets’ history.
The Mets had played 8,019 games in their history when they took the field against the St. Louis Cardinals and none of their pitchers had ever thrown a game in which the opponent had failed to register a base hit.
They had been no-hit six times, they had thrown 35 one-hitters and they had seen many of their pitchers throw no-hitters before coming to the Mets or after leaving the team.
None of that mattered to Santana, who had his best stuff against the Cardinals. The best pitch of all was his devastating changeup that dove down and away from right-handed hitters throughout the game. The 134th and last pitch was his best. It was a changeup that appeared to be going right over the heart of the plate when it left his hand. World Series hero David Freese had the pitch in his sights and his eyes got big. But the pitch kept diving lower and further away from the center of the plate. Instead of being able to square the ball up on the barrel of the bat, Freese was only able to wave at the ball as it went by. Catcher Josh Thole caught the ball cleanly, raised his glove for umpire Gary Cederstrom to see and rushed out to bear hug Santana for his sensational achievement.
The Mets have been identified by their pitching throughout their existence. Hall of Famer Tom Seaver’s career with the Mets was all about power pitching and matching up with the best pitchers in the National League during the 1960s and ’70s. He belongs with the greats of the game – including Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale and Steve Carlton. Perhaps only Sandy Koufax ranks ahead of him from that era. Seaver could never throw a no-hitter in a Mets uniform. He got one after he was traded to the Reds, but the magic always disappeared whenever a no-hitter was in reach when he donned his familiar No. 41 Mets jersey.
Nolan Ryan had seven no-hitters in his 27-year career, the most of any pitcher in history. None were with the Mets. He was a baby in New York and didn’t come into his own until he was traded in 1972 (along with three scrubs) to the California Angels for Jim “Bleeping” Fregosi. Mets fans have the same nickname for Fregosi that Red Sox fans have for Bucky Dent. Ryan threw no-hitters for the Angels, Astros and Rangers, but never with the Mets.
It was a legendary streak that saw every other team besides the San Diego Padres throw at least one no-hitter. The Padres didn’t come into existence until 1969, the most magical season in Mets history. The Mets wrote one of baseball’s most improbable scripts that season when they rode the great pitching of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Don Cardwell and Ryan to emerge as the National League East champions in the first season of divisional play. They beat the heavily favored Atlanta Braves for the National League pennant and then dispatched a sensational Baltimore Orioles team in the World Series.
During that season, Seaver nearly had a perfect game against the Cubs, the team they ran down in the East that summer. He was perfect for 8 1/3 innings until a scrub named Jimmy Qualls somehow launched a base hit when perfection was within reach. Seaver also lost no-hitters by giving up ninth-inning base hits to the Padres in 1972 and the Cubs again in ’75 (although that game was scoreless at the time and he would have had more work to do to get an “official” no-hitter).
Santana had plenty of help to get his no-hitter. Carlos Beltran’s rocket down the third base line actually hit the painted foul line and should have been called fair, but umpire Adrian Johnson called it foul. An inning later, Yadier Molina ripped a drive to left field that appeared to be beyond Mike Baxter’s reach. However, the left fielder snagged the in the webbing of his glove and the no-hitter was intact. Baxter crashed into the wall after he made the catch because of pain in his left shoulder, but it was the kind of sensational play that is often associated with successful no-hitters.
Despite the mistaken call by Johnson, it was unfettered joy for the Mets and Santana. The no-hitter represents a watershed moment for a franchise that has been defined by its pitching. The Mets are playing solid baseball and are just a game out of first place. Whether they go on a long run or not will still be determined, but they have their launching point. It just so happens that it will live in Mets’ history for as long as they play baseball.