Keidel: Santana’s Siren Song
By Jason Keidel
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There isn’t enough Just For Men gel to comb all the graybeards who have been waiting 50 years – and over 8,000 games – for the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Keith Hernandez, the product’s pitchman, wilted at first base for a fair share of those games, while some damn good hurlers failed to do something every team worth a damn has done – toss a no-no. It became more than incongruous and laughable; it was downright cruel considering the Mets had Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling…
Adding to the hex or hoax, depending on your view, seven former Mets had thrown one with another team. And while he had the talent, few could have expected an aging, aching Johan Santana to break the curse, with an Al Leiter-like pitch count that would make manager Terry Collins reach for the anti-aging elixir.
And while the switchboards lit-up like Christmas trees at every sports talk show, every Mets fan unloading a three, four, or five-decade burden, I realized one more platitude on my part wouldn’t make much of a difference.
But perhaps I broke the hex. I can’t recall the last time I mentioned Johan Santana in a column. Yet I make an oblong reference to Santana vis-à-vis Phil Hughes and Santana makes history. And for those who are prone to pummel Brian Cashman for not coughing up Hughes for Santana – or any other blunder the Yankees’ GM has perpetrated – Friday night was your moment, your Magnum Opus, served belt-high.
The symbolism is endless. In vanquishing the Cardinals, the Mets exorcised some serious ghosts. Beyond the no-hitter, they stifled Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and the World Series champs, who have been Met tormentors for decades. And how delicious was it to end the game on a strikeout, much the way Wainwright bedeviled Beltran in the 2006 NLCS.
And maybe Santana’s gem served notice. The Mets are in a three-team knot at first place with a third of the season in the books, so we can stop branding them a fluke. With the NL East as tight as a ball of rubber bands, no one would rightly pick the Mets to win the division, particularly considering they have the fewest blue-chippers in the batter’s box.
For over fifty games we’ve waited for the Mets to make their perfunctory plunge down the standings. And we’re still waiting. With all the optimism came the requisite cynicism, an amalgam of admonitions – “we’ve got a tough road trip coming” or “The real meat of the schedule is approaching” – to soften the blow of the expected reality. But it hasn’t happened.
Maybe the Mets can go from house money to house party. Speaking of money, perhaps the best part of this shocking run for Mets fans is the fact that they’re doing it with half the Yankees’ budget.
Any reasonable fan would have told you before the season that they’d kill for 80 wins and a whiff of promise for 2013. The Mets were little more than a cocktail of disparate parts that would quite likely stain the baseball diamond until they could unload some more dead freight and develop farmhands.
But surely the answer would come where it normally does: pitching. Yet the Mets are 13th out of 16 NL teams in ERA (4.25), and are fifth in hitting (.261). I can’t explain it, either.
Maybe the Mets have entered into that glorious, sporting ether where stats, reason, and recent history needn’t apply. And no one, from pundits to bookies, can explain it. Who can figure why the Giants own the Patriots or why they can saunter onto the Frozen Tundra and beat the otherwise unbeatable Packers? How do the Knicks, squatting on sacred basketball land, go 40 years without a title? Why did Ken Norton give Ali fits while Ali whipped George Foreman while Foreman whipped Norton? Why, indeed.
Every year every fan expects the Yankees to win their annual playoff perch. But it’s been a while since the Mets jockeyed for the back page, put some orange on top of the blue. Not only did Santana bogart the bold ink, he also told the Mets that he’s back. Have the Mets told us something, too?
Is the no-hitter a sign of good things to come for the New York Mets? Leave a comment below.