When the Mets won the World Series in 1986 I had just turned 8. I remember some of the pomp, I remember getting banners and tshirts. I don’t really remember the game.
The Mets moments that stand out in my life are Robin Ventura’s grand-slam single. Endy Chaves’s “The Catch.” Mike Piazza’s home run in the first game back at Shea after the attacks on September 11, 2001. You might think these are all fairly recent moments in Mets history. You are right. In truth I was a fairly passive Mets fan until 1999.
Without getting into too much detail, my story as a Mets fan may have started in the early 80s with my first memories of baseball, but in 1999 it solidified. I was sick and fighting and not sure of what the next day would mean. But the Mets were making an improbable run. I didn’t consciously say, “Hey if the Mets can do it, I can do it.” I watched and by watching my spirit was lifted. The season might not have gone anywhere, but it didn’t matter. That miracle called hope was born. The thing that makes Mets fans Mets fans. The chronic underdogs, the lovable losers, Ya Gotta Believe. And that’s what all of the moments that I remember carry with them. The Miracle Mets, defying the fates and making a run for improbably glory.
The back of Johan Santana’s baseball card may not inspire thoughts of an underdog, but last year Johan went under the knife in a surgery that nobody has returned from with any real success. Yet in Santana has been performing beyond expectations. Then in his last start he through a complete game, 96 pitch shutout. He was dominant. In this game the story was entirely different. Through 4 innings he had over 60 pitches and several walks. Howie Rose commented that tonight wasn’t the night, he was expected to be limited to 110-115 pitches and he was having control issues with his fastball. And yet somehow he was through 7 innings with a few walks, but not a hit in the ledger.
Mets manager Terry Collins, somehow knowing what was to come, defied his previous practice and stance that he would strictly adhere to the rehab program for Johan. You could see on his face that it pained him. Yet, for some reason gave him the ball and told Johan, “You’re my hero.” 24 outs, 8 innings, 0 hits.
At 122 pitches, beyond his prescribed limit Santana toes the rubber. Changeup. A bloop fly, every Met fan dreading it would drop. Torres takes on odd route to the ball, obviously shaken by the enormity of the moment, and awkwardly pulls it down. One pitch, one out.
Allen Craig takes the plate. The first pitch is a fastball, just inside. A changeup on the outside corner. A swing and a miss. A slider over the plate, but over the eyes. Ball 2. Another chageup, another swing, another miss. 2-2. Changeup. Another bloop! Nieuwenhuis tracks it down and puts in his pocket. 128 pitches, 28 outs.
Freese steps up with Molina looming in the on deck circle. The first pitch bounces well out of the strike zone. The next two are around the plate, but fail to find the strike zone. 3-0. Freese watches a fastball down the middle. At 3-1 the bat connects on a slow chopper down the third baseline. Mets fans see it in slow motion. We have seen this before, the no-hitter buster. But it’s foul!
51 years, 8,020 games, 3-2, 133 pitches, 28 outs. Johan throws a perfect pitch. Changeup, on the black, knee high. Freese bites and misses utterly. Thole looks back to make sure that what he knows just happened just happened and breaks for the mound.
Against the defending champions who lead the league in hitting, home runs and runs, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history since their inception in 1962.