June 1, 2012 started out ordinarily enough. It had to have been an ordinary day, because I can’t recall most of it. I may or may not have had work, I couldn’t tell you either way.
Funny thing is, extraordinary events often happen on the most ordinary of days, when they are most unexpected.
My then-girlfriend was over for dinner that night. After eating, however, I decided to turn on the Mets game. At this point in the season, the Mets were in 2nd place in the division with a 29-23 record, and the St. Louis Cardinals were in town for a standard three-game tilt.
Johan Santana was starting that night for the Amazin's. Acquired from the Minnesota Twins in a blockbuster trade a little more than four offseasons prior, he was supposed to push the Mets over the hump, from merely a good team to a World Series contender.
For the first few years, Santana for the most part put in his due. In 2008, his first season as a Met, he posted the lowest ERA in the majors and subsequently placed third in the NL Cy Young voting. Despite Santana’s best efforts, including a 2 hit shutout the second to last game of the season, the Mets for the second straight year came up one game short of a playoff berth.
In 2009, the Mets suffered through quite possibly the most injury-ravaged season in the modern era. Santana was not immune. Although he pitched well that year, he was shut down that August due to bone chips in his elbow which required arthroscopic surgery to remove. 2010 ended similarly for Santana, with a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder, requiring him to miss the entire 2011 campaign as well.
All the while, the Mets were sliding further and further into irrelevance, with the futility characterized by the Bernie Madoff scandal eating into ownership’s pockets, a Luis Castillo game-losing dropped pop-up, Jason Bay forgetting how to play baseball, Oliver Perez’s inability to throw a strike, Jerry Manuel’s asinine game strategy and lineup construction, and Omar Minaya’s boneheaded trades and overpays in free agency.
By this time last year, many of these problems had disappeared, or at the very least, had been reduced in severity. The incompetent Manuel and Minaya were fired at the end of 2010 and were replaced with Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson respectively. Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo were cut before the 2011 season began, but were owed the $12 million and $6 million respectively remaining on their deals. But Jason Bay and his albatross of a contract remained. And the Madoff scandal was still a specter hanging over the team despite a settlement reached earlier in the year.
But anyway, back to my story. I started to watch the game with my then-girlfriend, trying to teach her some basic rules of the game. And I mean really basic: I’m talking about how many balls equals a walk. The first two innings went by with no score, and nothing was happening out of the ordinary. Santana’s changeup, his signature pitch, was sharp as ever, and he was mixing in his other pitches effectively.
Then my doorbell rang. Three of my friends came over to surprise me. I had only been home from BC for about two weeks, and hadn’t had the chance to make the rounds and see them. Thinking nothing of it, I turned off the game in the den and we all sat down in my living room to catch up on everything.
We must have been talking for over an hour, when my friend Josh called me. Josh is a Mets fan only when it’s convenient, and in general has the tendency to troll me about baseball. So when I saw his name come up on my cell phone I rolled my eyes. Wondering what possibly could have happened at Citi Field, and excusing myself from company, I answered.
“Turn on the game. Johan Santana. The thing that we must not speak of is happening.”
Could it be? Santana throwing a no-hitter, the Mets first ever? It is baseball superstition not to talk of a no-hitter while it is in progress, lest the pitcher loses his bid. I simply replied, “I understand” and hung up.
“Everyone to the TV!” I yelled. “The thing that must not be named in baseball is happening right now!” Everyone thought I was nuts, as I don’t think any of them knew of that particular baseball superstition. I ran in and turned on the game as fast as I could.
The unspeakable was unfolding right before my eyes. It was the top of the 7th inning and the Mets were ahead 5-0. Then, all of a sudden, with one out, Cardinals hitter Yadier Molina drove a pitch from Santana deep into the outfield. My mouth was agape with horror as left fielder Mike Baxter moved in for the running catch. It was going to be a close play. You can watch what happened next here:
On that fateful night, Mike Baxter sacrificed his body to keep the no-hitter intact. He suffered a shoulder contusion, and was out of action for two months.
No-hitters also tend to have close calls, and Baxter’s save was only one of many. The inning before, which I wasn’t able to see live, ex-Met Carlos Beltran hit a ball down the third base line that was ruled foul by the umpire, but just barely nicked the white line after it passed the bag.
In the eighth inning, there were a couple of hairy moments where shortstop Omar Quintanilla almost spoiled the bid by getting in the way of other players. On the first pitch, Tyler Greene hits the ball to shallow left, where Quintanilla and Baxter’s replacement, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, almost collided before Kirk caught it. A similar situation happened at the end of the inning when Beltran hit a fly just over second base, and Quintanilla almost collided with second baseman Daniel Murphy before Murphy made the snag to end the inning.
You were able to feel the palpable tension enveloping the stadium in the final inning. Now up 8-0, it wasn’t a matter of who was going to win, but whether the unthinkable could happen. Coming into the ninth, Santana had already thrown 122 pitches, much higher than the usual pitch count of 100. Still, he was kept in the game. Eight pitches later, with a strikeout of David Freese, Santana had fired a game for the ages. I’ll let Gary Cohen take it from here:
“The first no-hitter in New York Mets history.”
It took 51 seasons and 8,020 games for this to happen for the Mets. Tom Seaver, the best pitcher ever to don the orange and blue, threw a no-no with the Cincinnati Reds. Doc Gooden threw one for the Yankees. None of them were able to do it for the Mets, a franchise that historically has been built on great pitching.
Immediately after that final strikeout, I was crying tears of joy and elation, and bowed before the TV in admiration and respect while the Mets dugout and bullpen rushed the mound around Santana, who had just pitched the game of his life. I frantically called some family friends to make sure that they were watching it too. I got congratulatory calls from many of my friends from BC who are fans of other teams. Even the former BC Pep Band director, who just saw his team get no-hit, texted his well wishes.
Fast-forward to present day. Santana tore his shoulder capsule again and is out for the whole year. Some may argue that his 134 pitch no-hitter hampered his season afterwards, and re-aggravated the injury. I don't buy it. Santana had a 2.77 ERA in June, and his only bad start that month was the one right after the no-hitter, against the Yankees. I strongly suspect that if the no-hitter truly caused Santana's struggles, he would have lit up every start after June 1 rather than every start after June 30.
Santana is owed $31 million this season in what is the last guaranteed year on his contract. The Mets probably won’t re-sign him. He may never pitch again. But on that warm night of June the first, in the year two-thousand twelve, he made history, and gave the Mets, and their fans, a performance that they will never forget.
And it was worth every penny.
School, major and year: A&S, Political Science, '14
Hometown Lindenhurst, New York
You have 24 hours to give prospective students a tour of BC and convince them to enroll. How do you spend the day? I’d take them to Seth Jacob’s Vietnam class to show off the academics, then head over to Gasson, Stokes, and Bapst…then Conte Forum for a hockey game, and then a trip to some Mod parties.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a pep talk the night before you moved into BC as a freshman, what is the most important piece of advice that you would give to your former self? Keep calm and things will fall into place.
What is your favorite study spot on campus? Usually my desk in my dorm room or a table in my common room.
What is your go-to meal at Late Night? Mozzarella sticks (pronounced muz-zuh-elle in my Brooklynese/Long Island accent) paired up with a Honey Q Wrap, with Blue cheese and without the tomato
What is the best Halloween costume that you have ever worn? This is a tough one. Probably the Michael Jackson costume that I’ve worn the past 2 years, possibly soon to be 3 come this October.
If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Let's go Outback tonight.