Mets history is filled with quirks and oddities. Among them is the fact that no Mets pitcher threw a no-hitter during the organization’s first 50 years of existence. The streak remains the third longest of all time, and is all the more surprising for a team historically built on starting pitching.
The unlikely streak came to an end on June 1, 2012, when Johan Santana no-hit the Cardinals on a Friday night at Citi Field. Despite its 8-0 final score, the game was one of the greatest in franchise history and immediately became a Mets classic. The game’s backstory had a lot to do with that.
The Cardinals had broken the Mets’ hearts six years earlier in a brutal NLCS Game 7 at Shea. The wounds of that loss hadn’t fully healed by 2012, in large part because the Mets hadn’t yet returned to the playoffs. In a fairly remarkable turn of events, several key players in that 2006 game would feature prominently in Santana’s no-hitter.
First among them was Adam Wainwright, who started opposite Santana on that June night in 2012. Wainwright, of course, had struck out then-Met Carlos Beltran on a devastating curveball to end the 2006 NLCS.
Six years later, Beltran was Wainwright’s teammate on the Cardinals. In fact, that June 1 contest was Beltran’s first game back at Citi Field after the Mets traded him to the Giants the year before. With Santana’s no-hitter intact, Beltran led off the top of the sixth with a line drive down the left field line. Third base umpire Adrian Johnson called the ball foul. Replays, however, showed that the ball actually hit the foul line beyond third base and should have been called fair. As it turns out, MLB would not expand its replay system for another two years, meaning that Johnson’s call stood. Beltran grounded out to third on the next pitch, and Santana took his no-hit bid to the seventh.
With one out in the seventh, Santana faced Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Like Wainwright, Molina was a villain to Mets fans for the role he played in the 2006 NLCS, when he took Aaron Heilman deep to put the Cardinals ahead in the ninth inning of Game 7. Six years later, facing Santana, Molina hit a hard line drive over the head of Mets left fielder—and Whitestone native—Mike Baxter. Baxter, on the run, made a dramatic over-the-shoulder catch that led him crashing into the wall, shattering his left shoulder, and leaving the game. The hometown hero sacrificed his body to preserve Santana’s no-hitter, and Baxter’s catch became one of the most iconic in franchise history.
Santana threw a lot of pitches that night, due in large part to his eight strikeouts and five walks. He was also playing his first season back from major shoulder surgery, leading some to question Collins’s decision to let Santana finish the game. Nonetheless, Collins stuck with his veteran for a whopping 134 pitches. The last of those pitches was a changeup that David Freese swung at and missed, giving both Santana and the Mets their first no-hitter.
Unfortunately, the controversy over Collins’s decision intensified over the next few weeks. Santana got rocked in his next start, hit the DL at the end of July, and made his last big league appearance in mid-August. Collins still feels partly responsible for the career-ending injuries Santana suffered after throwing the no-hitter. The manager has since called it “the worst night I’ve ever spent in baseball.”
In Collins’s defense, Santana actually didn’t pitch badly after throwing the no-hitter. In his next five starts—including the one in which he got rocked—Santana posted a 3.60 ERA in 30 innings of work, striking out 25 and walking 12. It wasn’t until he hurt his ankle in a July 6 start against the Cubs that his season went off the rails: From July 6 on, Santana pitched to a 15.63 ERA in 19 innings of work in what would be the last five starts of his career.
Some might say that the Mets’ first no-hitter was tainted by controversy. Between Santana’s subsequent injuries and the blown call down the third base line, the no-hitter wasn’t quite as a clean or satisfying as, say, a Don Larsen perfect game in the World Series.
On the other hand, maybe Santana’s no-hitter was the perfect way for the Mets’ 50-year drought to come to an end. The streak had become such a punch line that perhaps the only fitting way to break it was with some degree of absurdity. Furthermore, the roles that Wainwright, Beltran, and Molina played in the game offered Mets fans some catharsis during a rough period of time for the franchise.
Santana’s no-hitter was, in other words, quintessentially “Mets.” It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t without controversy, but it was awfully fun to watch and it helped put some of the franchise’s old demons to rest. Although Santana’s career came to an end shortly thereafter, the memories of his performance that night will live on for much more than these five years.