Time Out: June 6, 2012

It was a “where were you when it happened” kind of night. Years from now New York Met fans will remember vividly where they were and what they were doing on the first day of June in 2012, when Johan Santana ended the longest team run without a no-hitter in major league baseball history.
For the Mets the no-hitter drought had reached biblical proportions. In 50 years the New York Mets had played 8,019 games and no Met pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter. For a franchise rich in pitching tradition, the failure to register a single no-hitter was more than an anomaly. Over time the no-hit drought came to symbolize the sense of angst and disappointment that’s part of the DNA of Met fans.

No-hitters come with subplots. So much of the story of the young, resurgent Mets revolves around the return of their pitching ace Santana. The two-time Cy Young lefthander returned to the mound this spring after missing over a year with a torn shoulder capsule.

Few Met fans believed Santana would even throw a pitch this season. No pitcher with Santana’s injury had ever returned to pitch without at least two full years of rehabilitation. But, on Opening Day this spring it was Santana on the Citi Field mound for the Mets.

Met manager Terry Collins handled Santana like he would a valued piece of fine China. Santana regularly received an added day of rest between starts. A strict pitch count kept the Met ace on a short leash that rarely saw Santana reach the sixth inning in the early part of the season.
Met fans suffered with the manager Friday as the no-hitter unfolded. As Santana’s pitch count elevated, first past his season high, then past his career high, to the third highest count ever recorded in a no-hit game, 134, Collins and legions of Met fans balanced the short term euphoria of making history against the long-term disaster of a Santana arm or shoulder injury.

In the end, Collins couldn’t take Santana out. The high energy Met manager would turn to his pitching coach in the ninth inning and say, “It’s like we’re in the middle of a movie.” After the final out, a teary-eyed Collins hugged his pitching ace and told him, “You’re my hero.” For me, there’s a lot of hero in Terry Collins.

By the way, Friday was a weird karma day for me. In the late afternoon I headed west to Binghamton to watch the B-Mets. Before that I had been cleaning my home office, where I stumbled across the Michael Sheara novel, “For the Love of the Game”, the story of an aging major league pitcher, Billy Chapel, a future Hall of Famer, making a gigantic transition in life but needing to pitch his final major league game. He throws a perfect game. I read two
chapters before staring my trek to Binghamton.

Good viewing
At NYSEG Stadium, I had an aisle seat directly behind home plate in the third row, a perfect vantage point to watch the Arkon Aeros knuckleballer, Steven Wright. Wright was the first professional knuckleball pitcher I had ever seen live. He had nasty dancing stuff and carried a no-hitter through one out in the fifth inning before B-Met second baseman Reese Havens blasted a homerun.
After the Ravens blast I got this strange feeling I needed to leave the park for the car to head home and listen to the Met game on the radio. Leaving a professional baseball game before it has ended breaks a tenet of my baseball code of behavior. I shook off the urge.

It only grew stronger. In the B-Met seventh, I reasoned if the home team failed to score two runs, I was heading home. They came up short, so I got to listen to the great Howie Rose do play-by-play as Santana made history. That’s weird karma.