BY JOE RINI
For Mets fans, it was a weekend to celebrate a lefthander from their past and a present day lefty whose future looks brighter than it did a few months ago. On Friday June 1, Johan Santana no-hit the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field in an 8-0 win before a crowd of 27,069 gratefully ecstatic fans.
For the Mets, it was the first no-hitter in franchise history, coming in game 8,020 of the team’s 50 year existence. For Santana, the career high 134 pitch performance punctuated a successful return from shoulder surgery which caused him to miss all of the 2011 season and left his career in doubt.
By finally having a pitcher throw a no-hitter, Mets ended a streak which had left them as the team having gone the longest without a no-hitter to their name. The drought seemed to defy logic considering the number of quality pitchers the Mets have had in their history and by the fact that seven of them, including Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone pitched no-hitters after leaving the Mets. In fact, former Met Nolan Ryan tossed a major league record seven no-hitters on his way to Cooperstown after being traded in 1971.
Unlike his tidy complete game four hit shutout against the Padres six days earlier, Santana seemed to labor early against the Cardinals, walking four in the first five innings and elevating his pitch count.
But Santana caught a break in the sixth inning when former Met Carlos Beltran lead off with a line shot down the leftfield line that was called foul even though replays showed the ball kicking up chalk on the foul line.
With the fans sensing history in the making and the tension mounting, Whitestone native Mike Baxter made the defensive play of the game, crashing into the leftfield wall and into Mets lore, robbing Yadier Molina of an extra basehit and preserving the no- hitter in the seventh inning. Baxter subsequently left the game with an injury and could miss six weeks with a displaced right collarbone.
After the game, Santana thanked his teammates and stated, ”I know how much this means to New York and to the New York Mets.” Manager Terry Collins, who had Santana and his surgically repaired shoulder on a 110-115 pitch count before the game, was torn about leaving Santana in the game and said afterwards about the no-hitter and Santana’s comeback from his injury. Collins said, “I just couldn’t take him out…He never gives up, never gives in. He said, ‘I’m going to come back from this,’ and it led to this.” In deference to Santana’s extra workload, Collins later announced that his ace would get two extra days rest before his next start on Friday.
Two days after Santana’s historic outing, the Mets took time out to acknowledge a part of their history as former Mets closer John Franco was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony on June 3.
Joined by among others, former teammates Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Al Leiter, Franco said, “You can’t judge a person by his size, but you could judge them by the heart he has. And I have always had a big heart. Every time I went out there I gave 150 percent….And I enjoyed every minute of it, through the good times and the bad times.”
The times have been mostly good for the Mets lately as they completed a 7 and 4 homestand before dropping the opener against the Nationals 7-6 in Washington on Tuesday.
Johan Santana and RA Dickey won four games combined during this recent stretch which included 25 consecutive scoreless innings by Mets pitching against the Cardinals. The Mets entered play on Wednesday with a record of 31-25, in third place, 1 1⁄2 games behind the division leading Nationals.