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.”
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.