For more than 50 years, the New York Mets chased that elusive no-hitter. Johan Santana finally finished the job
Santana pitched the first no-hitter in team history, helped by an umpire's missed call and an outstanding catch in left field in an 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.
After a string of close calls over the last five decades, Santana went all the way in the Mets' 8,020th game.
"Finally, the first one," he said. "That is the greatest feeling ever."
He needed a couple of key assists to pull it off.
Carlos Beltran, back at Citi Field for the first time since the Mets traded him last July, hit a line drive over third base in the sixth inning that hit the foul line and should have been called fair. But third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul and the no-hitter was intact -- even though a replay clearly showed a mark where the ball landed on the chalk line.
"I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul," Johnson told a pool reporter.
The umpire acknowledged that he saw the replay afterward but declined to comment.
"It was in front of his face, and he called it foul. I thought it was a fair ball," Beltran said. "At the end of the day, one hit wasn't going to make a difference in the ballgame. We needed to score more runs and we didn't do that."
Hometown kid Mike Baxter, from Whitestone, Queens, then made a tremendous catch in left field to rob Yadier Molina of extra bases in the seventh. Baxter crashed into the wall, injured his shoulder and left the game.
Making his 11th start since missing last season following shoulder surgery, Santana (3-2) threw a career-high 134 pitches in his second consecutive shutout. Relying on a sneaky fastball and the baffling changeup that's always been his signature, he struck out eight and walked five with wind gusting up to 30 mph.
"Amazing," Santana said after tossing the majors' third no-hitter this year. "Coming into this season I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team, and now I am in this situation in the greatest city for baseball."
Before the game, Mets manager Terry Collins said he planned to limit Santana to 110-115 pitches all season.
"I just couldn't take him out," a choked-up Collins said afterward.
Born in 1962, the Mets have been built on pitching when they've fielded their best teams. But neither Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver nor Dwight Gooden could throw a no-hitter for the Mets -- though all three are among the seven pitchers who tossed one after leaving the team.
Philip Humber is another one. He pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox at Seattle on April 21, and Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels no-hit Minnesota on May 2.
Following the game, Santana addressed his teammates in the clubhouse. He thanked them and said: "Yeah, baby! Believe it!"
"I'm really happy for them,'" said Boston manager Bobby Valentine, who managed the Mets from 1996-2002. "That's been an albatross over the pitching in that franchise forever, since '62. One of the best pitchers they've ever had threw it and that also gives credibility to it."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Santana in a message on Twitter, calling him a "golden left-hander" and "Giant Johan."
"What pride! Long live Venezuela!" Chavez said in the message.
Santana got a warm ovation as he headed out to the mound for the ninth inning, and the two-time Cy Young Award winner quickly retired Matt Holliday and Allen Craig on shallow fly balls as frenzied fans high-fived each other and captured video of it all on their cell phones.
With the crowd of 27,069 on its feet, World Series MVP David Freese went to a 3-2 count before his foul tip was caught by Josh Thole, just activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.
Santana pumped his left fist, slammed it into his glove and shouted as Thole showed the ball to plate umpire Gary Cederstrom and then went running out toward the mound.
"I don't think anybody expected that tonight. Everything came out perfect for him," Beltran said. "It should mean a lot for him after battling last year with the injuries. ... I'm not happy about it, but at the same time he's a good man and I'm happy for him."
The Mets rushed out of the dugout and mobbed Santana in a raucous dogpile as security guards tackled a fan who ran onto the field near home plate. Moments later, the pitcher raised his right arm and saluted the crowd, which was chanted his name from the eighth inning on. The big scoreboard in center flashed Santana's picture and read "No-Han."
"It was a crazy night -- my fastball moving all over the place," Santana said. "I don't think I've ever thrown a no-hitter in video games."