The clouds from the baseball gods cleared over Citi Field again
Everything broke right for the Mets in the second no-hitter in club history
For the first 32 years and four months of my life, I was pretty much convinced there would never be a no-hitter thrown by a Mets pitcher.
I expect the entire Mets fan base shared that sad sentiment.
But then came June 1, 2012. Johan Santana was working his way back from major shoulder surgery. That he was on a big league mound seemed like a miracle in and of itself at the time. But I recall noting in his start just before this night his change-up and slider seemed to have new life, and I was excited to see what was in store against the Cardinals on this day.
Sure enough, the slider and change-up looked every bit as good as it had been five days before. While it took 134 pitches and one questionable call that went against Carlos Beltrán, Santana made it through to give the Mets their first no-hitter in club history.
The prayers of millions of Met fans who had been waiting for and in some cases, never got to see, had finally been answered.
“Believe it,” Santana said that night.
But at the same time, it seemed like a one time deal with the baseball gods who somehow always seem to rain on a ballpark in Flushing.
After all, the 134 pitches Santana threw that night effectively ended the competitive portion of Santana’s career. And from RA Dickey and Jacob deGrom and all of the other power arms who have come and gone in between the three Cy Young Awards those two have produced, something always seemed to get in the way of the next no-hitter for the Mets.
One was enough, it seemed. Of the 314 no-hitters which had come and gone to-date, only one of them was recorded by a New York Met. The clouds were summoned over Citi Field by the baseball gods again.
But then came Friday night, and those clouds finally cleared.
It was deGrom’s replacement, Tylor Megill on the mound on what seemed like another ordinary night at the ballpark. The Mets were opening up an important homestand and two-week stretch against NL East opponents, and they needed Megill to be every bit as clutch as he has been to-date for them, serving as deGrom’s replacement. Megill - who has become known as “Big Drip” - wasn’t at his best, but his newfound fastball velocity and improved slider offset his struggle to hit his spots, inducing weak contact and netting big strikeouts to navigate around an 88 pitch, three walk outing over five innings.
And, no hits.
But we have seen this movie plenty of times. All too often a Mets starting pitcher has carried a no-hit bid into the sixth, seventh and sometimes the eighth inning. He has gone the distance many times although these days, as has been the case throughout baseball, that Mets pitcher had been removed due to an elevated pitch count, innings limit or whatever club-imposed cap had been reached. On three occasions, Tom Seaver carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning for the Mets only to have a nobody break up his attempt at padding his Hall of Fame resume.
It always seems to be a nobody who gets their 15 minutes of fame against the Mets, isn’t it? And in some cases, such as Jimmy Qualls who broke up Seaver’s near-perfect game in the ninth inning against the Cubs in July, 1969, that 15 minutes of fame lasts a lifetime or longer.
So nobody had any reason to expect this would last on Friday night. Not with the amount Megill and Drew Smith had to battle against a fine Phillies lineup. Too many pitches were being fouled off (37 in total), too many full counts had been reached (9), too many walks had been allowed (6) and the Phillies had seen too many pitches (159).
The shoe just had to drop on yet another fruitless no-hit bid for the Mets.
But, for just the second time in club history, that shoe never dropped.
Friday night was the ultimate demonstration of the beauty of baseball. The science and the logic dictated the Mets might’ve lost to the Phillies and perhaps should never had been able to contemplate the notion of a shutout, let alone a no-hitter. But they instead shut them out on no hits and navigated these rings of fire thanks to some key defensive alignment, some clutch pitches, a key double play, and one hell of a diving catch from Brandon Nimmo in the third inning.
It actually happened. Again.
No, a combined no-hitter isn’t the same as a traditional no-hitter. That’s just being fair. It lacks the luster and the shine of the individual accomplishment. It eliminates any hope of an organic perfect game, each pitcher that comes out of the bullpen in theoretically fresh and isn’t dealing with every no-hitter’s final challenge of combined stress and fatigue, either.
But a no-hitter is a no-hitter and a combined no-hitter is a greater team effort if only because more pitchers are needed and needed to be spotless (and lucky) in order for it to happen.
That’s probably why of the 315 no-hitters in baseball history, only 17 are combined no-hitters. Historically, it’s a rarer accomplishment than a perfect game, even if it’s not as remarkable.
None of this takes away from the accomplishment from Megill, Smith, Joely Rodriguez, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Díaz. They will forever be remembered in Mets lore as five of the six pitchers to be involved in a no-hitter in Mets history. And let’s not forget James McCann, the mainstay behind the plate in this magical effort. Maybe he did a little thing like stole a strike here or there to make it possible. His pitch calling certainly deserves merit, as does his council throughout the process.
More and more no-hitters will be combined in the future - consider this the modern form of the no-hitter. It’s an awesome accomplishment for any pitcher or group of pitchers to throw a no-hitter at any level regardless of how it looks in the box score.
And whatever anyone thinks about the path the Mets took to get this no-hitter and whether or not it’s legit - the scoreboard registered zero hits.
It was actually fun watching this no-hitter. It seemed so stress-free unlike that of Santana’s no-hitter ten years ago or any other traditional no-hitter. It felt like a relay race that quite honestly, the Mets pitching staff had complete command over. Years and years of cynicism that it might actually happen and happen again for this club might have actually helped make this more fun, just because we were all pretty much convinced someone in that gauntlet of a Phillies lineup would squib a roller up along the line, or hit a three run home run after the Mets allowed two walks (you know you were thinking the same thing when Díaz came in!).
Díaz had to navigate Bryce Harper and the middle of the Philadelphia lineup. But that’s the way it should be - to do the best, they need to beat the best. And, Díaz found his way by striking out Harper, Nick Castellanos and JT Realmuto.
But that’s the thing - it seemed almost inevitable the Mets would get this done because it’s usually hitters like Qualls against Seaver in 1969 who ruins these things for the Mets at the last second. Not a future hall of famer, the best catcher in the game and one of the best right-handed hitters in the league.
That’s just not how these things go for the Mets.
I’m not sure if any prayers were answered this time, but I certainly offered a smile and a big fist pump (and strained a lower back muscle in the process) when Díaz struck Realmuto out to close the deal.
Sometimes, the Mets have these great days, these historic days, and days where you see things you’ve never seen them do. They seem to have the wind at their backs over the first month of the season.
And some good mojo to boot.
Maybe more of these glorious days are on the immediate horizon. Finally.