It is sometimes hard to come up with an angle that is different enough to warrant wasting electrons on. So many people have written so many good takes on the first no-hitter in Mets history that I find myself without much to add, and absolutely unable to make what I want to say cohere in any fashion. So here are some random thoughts about one of the coolest nights -- even for a Yankee fan -- of the season.
-- There's a difference between "the narrative" and a story. You've heard me go off on the former any number of times, when writers invent causes and effects out of whole cloth to explain things that, frankly, are just baseball. Team A won, so they had more heart. Team B's cleanup man got injured and immediately their #3 hitter went 5-for-33, so clearly he missed his protection. The ninth inning is different. Salaries go up, so ticket prices go up. All the data in the world that puts the lie to these and dozens of other narratives doesn't seem to move the needle, so railing against these inventions is worth the effort.
Not everything falls into that category, though, and when the man who was the best pitcher in baseball for a while goes to the mound against one of the top hitting teams in the league in just his 11th start off of a season lost to shoulder surgery, for a team that has played 50 seasons without ever having a pitcher throw a no-hitter, and he does just that...that's a story. That's not invented. That's not an attempt to make sense out of randomness. That's not counterfactual history masquerading as analysis. That's the reason we watch sports. What Santana did last night was special for him and his teammates, special for Mets fans, and so big that it reached beyond CitiField to baseball fans everywhere. The Mets finally got a no-hitter, and they got it from their ace, who after going through hell is back hanging zeros for a surprising contender.
I'll rail against the narrative all day. Last night had absolutely nothing to do with that. Last night was, as I said on Twitter, f***ing awesome.
-- It is a fact that Carlos Beltran hit at least a single, and probably a double, in the sixth inning. The rules say that a ball passing the base on the fly and landing on the foul line -- "fair line," to be precise -- is a fair ball. Beltran's ball bounded on the line and into foul territory, a hit, and a man named Adrian Johnson changed that hit into a foul ball. That's what happened, folks -- the player did something, and the guy no one's ever heard of changed it into something else. I'm happy to have this conversation over and over again until we get the robot umpires -- or at least the sensible replay system -- that will take baseball out of the hands of the middle management interpreters.
It is also a fact that anyone wanting to elevate the Johnson failure as a discussion point on line with Mike Baxter's catch or Santana's heroics is missing the forest for the trees. Johan Santana didn't do anything last night that players all over baseball do all the time: act in the changed context of play once an umpire has substituted his reality for what happened. To make Johnson the story, as a number of people did after the game to me on Twitter, is gold-medal point missing.
Put it this way: I'm a lot more upset about the blown call at second base two weeks ago, in the Mets/Blue Jays game, that turned a double into an out during a ninth-inning rally. You want to talk about the impact of having umpires who won't sign on to a replay regime, that's the call to focus upon, not a sixth-inning double turned into a foul ball that only has meaning because Santana got 26 other outs without allowing a hit. You can be for replay or against it, but you can't pick and choose based on the context of the call.
--There was some question as to whether Santana would finish the game. Even at his peak, he wasn't one to rack up huge pitch counts -- Santana and CC Sabathia are milestones in the evolution of the staff ace, pitchers who were the best in the game while almost never being pushed to high pitch counts. In ten starts prior to last night, Santana had thrown 100 pitches just three times and never more than 108. So it was natural to wonder whether Terry Collins would let him finish the game. Santana, after the game, indicated that there was no way he would come out, and that seems a reasonable position. He's not some kid. He's also not pitching for a team with a high likelihood of reaching the postseason. Throw in the historical significant, and the added risk of the extra pitches was worth paying for the shot at the no-hitter. Santana ended up throwing 134 pitches, and as I mentioned yesterday, to get that high in the modern game you pretty much have to be chasing history. Santana caught it.
-- If any of you have seen the movie adaptation of "Fantasyland," you've seen Jed Latkin. Jed, one of my best friends, is a lifelong Mets fan, a season-ticket holder, someone who takes trips to Port St. Lucie in March with his dad to watch spring training games and gets to take BP on the field at Citi. I don't understand it -- I grew up in New York, too, and I was raised to root for the right franchise -- but I respect it.
Friday was Jed's birthday, and on his birthday, the ace pitcher for the Mets threw the team's first no-hitter ever. It's a fairy tale, really, but for one small detail: Jed wasn't there. He was celebrating with cake at home, with his wife and his four-year-old twins. He's not crying about it -- Jed's as good a father as I am a consumer of cupcakes -- but for someone who's watched so much bad baseball as Jed has, who suffered at Shea, who has stayed with the Mets even as so many people have bailed since the first year of the move to CitiField, you just wish that maybe the rain that washed out the Nats and Braves last night could have instead moved north more quickly, pushing history back one more day, giving this fan the baseball thrill of a lifetime.