Johan, we hardly knew ye

Photo: NY Mets

Photo: NY Mets

You were only with the New York Mets for four short seasons (2008-2012.) Many will complain that you didn’t live up to your potential as an ace, and as a two time Cy Young award winner. But Mets fans will always remember you fondly, for the way you pitched with your heart in general, and two games in particular.

Of course, there is The Game. The Game of Games. The Game Mets Fans Had Been Waiting For Forever. Friday night, June 1, 2012. The first no-hitter thrown by a Met, while he was still actually wearing a Mets uniform.

I was watching the game from home that evening. If I recall correctly, it was kind of a cold, dreary night, and there wasn’t a particularly large crowd at Citi Field.  Although the game was against the Cardinals, and some haters would always brave the weather just so they could boo Carlos Beltran one more time for his “struck out standing” in the NLCS in 2006. (Never mind that the Mets wouldn’t even have been there without Carlos that season; but that’s a topic for another day.)

I don’t get excited about possible no-no’s until the fifth inning at the very earliest. I remember on this particular night, I happened to flip the channel with two outs in the top of the 6th inning. About ten minutes later, when I thought about putting the game back on, I remember briefly thinking that I’d probably see a hit from the Cardinals posted, and feel my usual “Oh well, not tonight,” moment of disappointment.

But there was no hit recorded. It was still 0-0-0 Cards.

Now at this point, my irrational Mets fan side took over. I continued watching the game, but when there were two outs in the top of the 7th inning, I wildly and blindly grabbed the remote control and changed the channel. Why? Because I hadn’t watched the last out of the 6th inning, and I convinced myself that was what saved the no-hitter. So I immediately decided I couldn’t watch the last out of the 7th inning. Or the 8th. Or the 9th. (I’m telling you, we Mets fans are a crazy bunch.)

With two outs in the 9th, my brother called me on the phone from his job, so we could enjoy this historic moment together. I told him I had just turned the game off, because “I’d jinx it if I watched.”

Photo: NY Daily News

Photo: NY Daily News

Now here’s the really funny part. My brother never questioned it. Never said, “That’s ridiculous, of course you can watch it!” Rule #1 of being a Mets fan: Never question the superstitions of another Mets fan. He simply said, “Is it okay if I tell you what happens?” I said of course, that would be fine. And he did, and a few joyous minutes later he yelled “HE DID IT!” into the receiver. I allowed myself to change the channel and saw Johan get mobbed by his teammates, tell the fans “This was for you,” and yell, “Believe it baby!” in the clubhouse. A truly wonderful, magical evening.

But there is also another Johan game worth mentioning and remembering.

September 27, 2008. After the glory of 2006, the Mets were on the verge of choking for a second straight season. They needed to win their last two games just to keep pace with the Milwaukee Brewers and perhaps get a shot at the wild card. Johan had pitched three days earlier and asked to take the mound again. Manager Jerry Manuel had said in a pre-game interview that he “would be happy to get five innings out of Johan if possible.”

Clearly, he didn’t know who he was dealing with.

Before the game, Johan famously wrote on the clubhouse blackboard, “IT’S TIME TO BE A MAN.” And then, in front of a crowd of 40,000+ fans (myself included) who were holding their breath on every pitch, he owned the Marlins that afternoon. You can’t possibly put it any other way. He. Owned. The. Marlins. Johan Santana pitched a complete game shutout on three days rest as calmly and easily as if he were skipping rocks on a lake. I remember watching the replay of that game on TV later that evening and saw Jerry tentatively try to speak to Johan in the dugout in the 7th inning. Johan didn’t even make eye contact. He just stared straight ahead and said sternly (but politely) to Jerry, “Go away.” When the game was over, the entire stadium stood up and screamed “JO-HAN! JO-HAN!” We couldn’t believe what we just witnessed. None of us wanted to leave. Johan took the game ball, kissed it and flipped it into the stands. It was just another day at the office for him.

Oh, but there was just one more thing — did I mention Johan pitched the entire game with a torn meniscus in his left knee? He didn’t mention it to anyone. When the Mets lost the next day and were officially eliminated, Johan finally said, oh hey, by the way, I think I need surgery.

Time to be a man, indeed.

That game ended up being the last win ever by the Mets at Shea Stadium.

So thank you, Johan. Even though you were never able to carry the Mets to a championship on your impossibly broad shoulders, we will always love you for the last win at Shea Stadium and for pitching The Game. Best of luck with the Orioles.

8 thoughts on “Johan, we hardly knew ye

  1. Love your writing…and YES we Mets fans are unique for sure because I have done the very thing that you speak of…THE JINX…if I go into the kitchen and we score…be damned if I dont go back in there if we need to score more..or even funnier stay in there to not jinx a rally!

  2. Yet another Met fan sadly hanging onto the “faux-hitter”. I see no mention of Beltran’s double down the left field line that was taken away by an obviously blind umpire. We all know it, don’t deny. With the introduction of instant replay this season, the Mets will surely have to earn all their historical achievements.

  3. Hahaha, Heff, I was waiting for someone to mention that! Look, a no-hitter is a culmination of EVERYTHING IN A BALLGAME GOING RIGHT FOR THE PITCHER. As Donna Bauer mentioned above, think of the games the Mets lost on lousy calls by the umps. It all sort of evens out in the end. In other words–I’LL TAKE IT!!!!

  4. I loved that post Lisa. Us Mets fans have to put up with a lot through the years. I have been a Mets fan for 53 years, and I truly enjoyed that game. I am a big Mets collector as well, so if you or anyone else out there wants to send me something please do. My address is Bruce Taylor 4059 Piper Drive Jacksonville, Fla 32207. Email REGINA

  5. You know what’s better than a no-hitter? A perfect game. Tell me you didn’t feel bad for Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga when he was so undeservedly denied a PERFECT GAME on what should have been the final out after an historically horrendous call by first base umpire Jim Joyce. If you did, conversely, you should not be so elated about the one and only “no-hitter” in NYM history. Also, Beltran’s batting average suffered because of that call and he made less money on his subsequent free agent contracts because of it.

  6. For HEFF — For me, Beltran’s “double” can be placed on one side of the Mets no-hit fulcrum. Balancing it out is a game the Mets played at Wrigley Field on May 13, 1970. Mets won 4-0. Gary Gentry pitched a complete game shutout, walking one, striking out 7 and yes . . . he gave up a single hit.

    Or was it a hit?

    I was watching that game on WOR Channel 9 that afternoon and with one out in the bottom of the eighth and Gentry 5 outs from history, future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks hit a soft fly ball out to left field. Normally Cleon Jones would have been out there with his speed and reliable glove . . . but on this day the forgettable Dave Marshall was out there instead.

    So here lopes Marshall, coming in on the ball, and he’s holding his glove down near his shoe tops . . . the ball hits the glove . . . and then pops right out. It was an obvious error. But remember, this game was being played in Chicago . . . and a year earlier, the Mets broke Chicago’s hearts by passing the Cubs in the standings and winning the NL Eastern Division. And who was scoring the game? A Chicago sportswriter. So . . . of course . . . it’s scored a base hit for Banks.

    You think the sportswriter was going to give Gentry a chance to no-hit the Cubs in their own ballpark?

    I always remembered that game . . . just as much as Seaver’s “imperfect game” against these very same Cubs in July 1969. So when Beltran’s “faux double” was overturned in Santana’s no-no, I felt that justice had finally been done!

    BTW . . . Gentry’s almost no-no was one of three almost no-nos that Met pitchers threw over a span of 27 days. On April 18, 1970 at Shea the Mets beat the Phillies 7-0. Nolan Ryan pitched a complete game shutout. He walked 6 and struck out 15. And yes, he gave up one base hit . .. to Phillies lead off batter Denny Doyle in the top of the 1st. That was it . .. nothing else the rest of the way. Can you imagine if it had gone the other way? Nothing until 2 outs in the 9th? Everybody would remember that game as much as Seaver’s almost perfecto.

    And speaking of Seaver . . . the night after Gentry’s gem against the Cubs, Seaver and the Mets were in dumpy Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. He walked 3 Phillies, struck out 15 and in the third inning with two out, the Phils catcher, a nobody named Mike Compton got the only hit.

    Can you imagine? The Mets were this close to two no-hitters on consecutive days. Ouch!

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