What may have cut Johan Santana’s career short enabled him to live on forever.
After 50 years and 8,019 games, the Mets finally produced the first no-hitter in franchise history on June 1, 2012, when the two-time Cy Young Award winner threw a career-high 134 pitches in an 8-0 win over the Cardinals at Citi Field. Prior to Santana’s feat, the Mets had thrown 35 one-hitters and been on the receiving end of six no-hitters, while former Mets pitchers — including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden — had combined for 13 no-hitters.
“We worked very hard — all the things we have gone through that I have been through,” said Santana, who missed the previous season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. “This is very special and I know this means a lot to New York.”
Santana was put on a 115-pitch limit by Terry Collins before the game, but the southpaw convinced his manager after the seventh inning to keep him on the mound.
“[Collins] came over to me when I was sitting in the dugout and he told me that I was his hero and that was the end of it,” Santana said. “I told him I was not coming out of the game.”
Collins rightfully agonized over the call, foreshadowing the arm injuries that would prevent Santana — then, 33 — from ever pitching in the majors after the 2012 season.
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“I’m very excited for him, but if in five days his arm is bothering him I’m not going to feel very good,” Collins said, choking back tears. “You just don’t jeopardize the whole organization, this season, for one inning, so we’ll wait five days and see how it is.
“I just couldn’t take him out.”
One of the most memorable moments in Mets history — what many fans believed they’d never see — was built on a mistake.
Leading off the sixth inning, former Mets star Carlos Beltran lined a shot past third base, which was ruled foul by third base umpire Adrian Johnson. TV replays showed the ball clearly hit the chalk line and should have been called fair. A manager’s challenge was not an option for another two seasons.
“I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul,” Johnson said.
Mike Baxter made sure Santana cashed in the second chance. The Queens native made the game’s most crucial defensive play, catching a Yadier Molina liner, while crashing into the left field wall in the seventh inning, resulting in Baxter being forced from the game and placed on the disabled list with an injured shoulder.
“That ball that Baxter caught, he’ll go down in the annals of New York Met lore because of that,” pitcher R.A. Dickey said.
Santana, who struck out eight and walked five, ended the game with a strikeout of David Freese and was mobbed by teammates near the mound. The ace, perceived as the missing piece to a title when traded to New York in 2008, had brought the Mets something they always hoped to have.
“I don’t even think I’ve thrown a no-hitter in video games,” Santana said.
Santana held a 2.38 ERA after the no-hitter. He posted an 8.27 ERA over the final 10 games of his season, ending on Aug. 17. He would never pitch for the Mets again. He would never pitch in the majors again.