02 June 2012

Our Team, Our Time: Reflections on the No-No

Now I believe there comes a time
When everything just falls in line
We live and learn from our mistakes
The deepest cuts are healed by faith
             -All Fired Up, Pat Benatar, 1984 (Twain/Sabu)

The number loomed over the franchise like a giant, frustrating shadow: 8,019 games without a no-hitter.  Despite teams of Miracles, games readily identified by a single-digit number, and eras of baseball Like it Oughta Be, that one particular baseball feat continued to elude the Mets for 5 full decades.

The lists have always been well-circulated: 6 former Mets had thrown no-hitters (including the all-time leader in the feat), 10 no-hitters had been thrown by Mets-to-be.  One pitcher (Hideo Nomo) even has a spot on both lists.  But until last night, despite all the talent on the mound over the years, despite 2 World Championships, 4 pennants, 5 division winners, and 2 wild card teams, this one--THIS ONE, the one with owners accused of being small-market, the one led by an ace coming off an ominous surgical procedure, the one marked nightly by a rag-tag, injury-riddled lineup--is the one that finally led the Mets to the promised land.  For a franchise raised as "Amazin'" loveable losers turned miracle weavers, it was wonderfully poetic.

No one knows how far this crew is going to take things, but there's no arguing that this is the most likeable group of Mets in recent memory.  At the center of the show, of course, is Santana, the soul of the team who's riveted us with numerous displays of sheer guts since his arrival, often with very little in the way of return in the end.  Add to that an outfield brimming with subs, a stop-gap shortstop, a second baseman who supposedly could never play the position, and a first baseman with a lost year under his belt and the threat of being sent to Buffalo hanging over his head.  Yet, there they are, one game out to start July.  As cliche as it sounds, they by all measures are a humble, hard-working group that takes nothing for granted.
Sure, I would've loved to see a no-hitter back in the Doc & Darryl days.  It would have been wonderful to see Robin Ventura throw one across the diamond to John Olerud to make the last of 27 straight outs.  But to have this happen when it did, with whom it did on the field, just adds that much more to the magic of the moment.

After the game, Santana repeatedly made reference to the franchise's history and his knowing what it would mean to the fans to complete a no-hitter.  That sentiment was echoed by every one of his teammates when presented with an opportunity state it.  What we witnessed last night were a pitcher and his team willing themselves into history.

I can't imagine what it must have been like in Citi Field, because even from the front of a TV screen 1200 miles away, it was obvious we were witnessing 9 guys playing not just for themselves, but for their pitcher, their other teammates, 27,000 in the stands, and even some schmuck knocking on 40 in a blue BP jersey not daring to leave his recliner until the last out was recorded.

I can't help but wonder: would this particular game on this particular night have come out differently if there were a $150 million payroll on the field?  I mean, sure, we all hope these guys retire with a few rings with a Mets logo on them, but would a more experienced squad with higher-profile names have handled the game the same way they did?  Would it have meant the same to that hypothetical team as it did to the one that fate actually placed there?  I don't mean to suggest that anyone in MLB intentionally loafs with a no-hitter on the line, but last night was the perfect environment for a plucky bunch that by necessity goes all-out every night and never quits.

Let's be honest, Mike Baxter isn't making "Carl Crawford money."  Chances are he won't ever.  Making a balls-out catch to save the first no-hitter in Mets history very well may be the moment for which he's forever remembered.  Even in the deepest recesses of his subconscious, he's thinking, "Screw my shoulder, my head, or any other body part.  This ball cannot hit the ground."

And somehow, it only got better after the game.  Santana telling reporters he'd never even thrown a no-hitter in a video game and modestly showering his teammates with credit.  Terry Collins near tears, knowing if there are any ill effects on Santana's arm, he'll never forgive himself for not being the detached, wise old man who made a tough decision for his pitcher's own good.  Childhood-Mets-fan-turned face-of-the-franchise David Wright's crack about manicuring the ground around 3rd.  R.A. Dickey being his usual eloquent self in describing the gravity of the moment.

As great as a baseball moment last night's game was, in true Mets fashion, it was an even better human moment.  It may not have been a perfect game, but it was a perfect example of what keeps fans glued to this utterly maddening franchise.  Sure, you may find yourself banging your head on the wall for years on end, but when the payoff does come, it delivers in spades.

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