Saturday, June 2, 2012

Curtain Call

Baseball is a funny game, isn't it.

For 50 seasons and 8,019 regular season games, the Mets never had a pitcher who threw a No-Hit game, fact that seemed to take on a life of its own. It was part of the Mets culture. I'm sure many of us thought it might never happen. But it has. Baseball  is a game of averages, and by the law of averages, everything has to happen at some point. Just like until 2004, no team had ever come back from 0-3 down to win a Playoff series, and we saw the Red Sox do that. Someone, someday, would take the mound for the Mets, the stars would align, and someone would throw that elusive No Hitter.

And last night, June 1, 2012, that day finally came, that pitcher finally took the mound, and that No Hitter was had.

4 years ago, I'd anointed Johan Santana as worth every penny the Mets would be paying him over the course of his contract. He's done nothing, ever, to make me doubt that, even when he missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury that put the remainder of his career in jeopardy. Nonetheless, Santana never complained, he never got down on himself or his teammates when they couldn't back him up, he persevered and came back from his injury looking just as good as before he left, and now, he's been rewarded by being the man on the mound the night the stars aligned and a Mets pitcher finally threw a No Hitter.

I wasn't at last night's game, although I wish I was. Frugality deterred me from picking an innocuous blue-colored Friday Night game on the schedule (instead, I'm stuck with tickets for Monday Afternoon which I probably should just sell), and, in fact, I missed the first 6 innings of the game altogether while out to dinner. By time I returned, I was pleased with what I was seeing. I hadn't yet gotten the word that Santana was pitching a gem, but a 5-0 lead against the Cardinals is always a good thing.

So the 6th ends, and I see that the Cardinals have no hits. I notify a friend, although after 6 innings, I'm still not properly conditioned to take this seriously. I once saw Rick Reed take a Perfect Game into the 7th inning...twice. One time, he lost the game completely. I once saw Mark Clark take a No Hitter into the 8th inning. I saw R.A. Dickey hold the Phils into the 7th inning last September. It's too early to get too nervous. But Santana continued to mow the Cardinals down. Yadier Molina made a strong bid to break things up—certainly would have been fitting for him to screw us over again—but Mike Baxter saved the day at the cost of his shoulder. Those are the kind of plays you need. At that point, you could start to feel the stars aligning. I hadn't yet heard about Beltran's foul ball in the 5th, but sometimes, you just get those breaks.

By the 8th, I started getting nervous. Something just felt different this time. Maybe it was simply just the presence of Santana himself, and all he'd been through the last couple of seasons just to get to this point. He wasn't supposed to be doing THIS, was he? He wasn't supposed to be blowing through his pitch count with reckless abandon. And yet, he couldn't come out. After a 2-out walk, Terry Collins came running to the mound. There was no way he could take Santana out. Santana would have thrown him back into the dugout if he'd tried. Beltran was next, and now, I was flinching every time a Cardinal made contact. But the contact was never solid enough to scoot past the infield, or to whiz over the head of an outfielder. Beltran's swing produced a meek floater that was caught by Daniel Murphy. And all of a sudden, Santana was now in Tom Seaver territory.

I'd like to say that the 9th inning was just a mere formality. I suppose one might say that if they didn't have a pulse. I'd seen 9th innings of No Hitters before, and I wondered what it would be like if it ever happened to the Mets. Well, now I know. It's about 5-7 minutes of torturous hell. I was afraid to move or do much of anything other than stare blankly at the TV. Watching Santana deliver pitch after pitch, and hoping this wouldn't be the one that would find its way through, and wreck our shot at History once again. But it wasn't going to happen on June 1, 2012. First Holliday and then Allen Craig flew out. David Freese was the last man standing. David Freese has never done anything particularly bad to the Mets, but he certainly made a name for himself last October. And so, on a night where demons from the past were well abound, with Adam Wainwright starting—and losing— for the Cardinals, where Yadier Molina was robbed by a Mets leftfielder, David Freese completed the circle, waving at one final, signature changeup from Johan Santana, and, in the words of Gary Cohen, "IT HAS HAPPENED!!!"

It was somewhat surreal. I really couldn't believe I'd actually seen a Mets pitcher throw a No Hitter. But, there it was. We have to believe it, because we all saw it. We have to believe it, because, Johan Santana himself told his teammates to "BELIEVE IT!" after the game. Whatever Santana does the rest of his time here doesn't matter. I think I said that before. He's already cemented himself as one of the Best the Mets have ever had. He's accomplished something we never thought we'd see. And for the guy in the Promenade who always screams "THE STREAK CONTINUES!" every time the opponent gets their first hit of the game, well, this one's for you, because I never have to hear you say that again! 

No comments: