Johan Santana has thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets. The 33-year-old ace of the Mets' staff went the distance against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field without surrendering a hit in an 8-0 win.
Through eight innings, Santana had thrown 122 pitches while striking out seven and walking five. He faced the heart of the Cardinals' order in the top of the ninth, retiring Matt Holiday, Allen Craig and David Freese to make history in Queens. All told, he threw 134 pitches. The final pitch of the game was yet another signature change-up from the two-time Cy Young winner that Freese swung over.
Speaking with Kevin Burkhardt of SNY on the field after the final out, the first word uttered by Santana was "amazing." For a franchise described lovingly as "Amazin" even if the results were intermittently anything but, it was a choice of words as spot on as his final pitch.
"Amazing. I mean, coming in to this season, I was just hoping to come back. You know? And [to] stay healthy and help this team. And now, I'm in this situation in the greatest city for baseball," said Santana before addressing the fans at Citi Field. "I'm very happy and happy for you guys. Finally! The first one!."
Asked about the final strikeout, Santana said it was "the greatest feeling ever."
There were tens of thousands of fans in Queens and potentially millions more at home (and on Twitter) who felt the same way. The franchise had previously played 8,019 games -- stretching back to April 11, 1962 when Casey Stengel gave the ball to Roger Craig for the first game in club history -- without adding a no-no to its resume.
Entering the season, Santana's future was uncertain. Before the team's season opener, Santana had not appeared since Sept. 2010 and had undergone serious shoulder surgery.
The visiting Cardinals, on the other hand, entered the season as the defending World Series champions. Despite losing cornerstone hitter Albert Pujols via free agency, the Cardinals arrived in New York with the highest team batting average and home run total in the National League.
The historic result depended on a few critical plays in the field as well as one potential umpiring blunder. In the seventh inning, outfielder Mike Baxter made a spectacular catch as he ran into the wall. More controversially, Santana appeared to get the benefit of an incorrect ruling a fair ball to be foul during the sixth inning when former Mets star Carlos Beltran appeared to rifle a ball fair up the third-base line.
"It was tough because it happened so quick," Santana told reporters after the game when asked about the play. "I wasn't able to see anything. They just called it "foul" and I just stayed with it. There are times when one play makes the whole difference, when one call makes the whole difference. And if that was the case tonight then that was the call."
That the key play that went the Mets way involved Beltran added another layer of intrigue to the night as his relationship with the fans was never as steady as his performance while with the team. The low point of Beltran's six plus seasons came against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS in Queens when St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright froze him on a nasty curve ball to end the game. Coincidentally, Wainwright was opposing Santana on Friday. Thanks to the call by third base umpire Adrian Johnson those fans won't #BlameBeltran after this historic night.
The 8-0 win lifted the upstart 2012 Mets to 29-23 on the season under manager Terry Collins, who will be nervously watching Santana in the coming days to see if the heavy workload takes a toll. Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy did the heavy lifting for the Mets' offense, with four and three RBI respectively.
From Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan to Doc Gooden and David Cone, the Mets have sent some of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history to the mound during more than fifty years in New York but until Friday night the club never had a pitcher toss a no-no.
Eric James Byrnes