Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 371 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
7/2/82 F Philadelphia 3-1 Swan 7-14 W 8-4
8/3/86 Su Montreal 2-2 Ojeda 1 16-25 W 4-3 (10)
5/15/87 F San Francisco 1-1 Fernandez 3 18-27 W 8-3
5/3/97 Sa St. Louis 6-4 Reed 1 51-56 W 5-1
6/8/98 M Tampa Bay (A) 1-0 Reed 7 64-62 W 3-0
10/8/00: NLDS @ Shea Mets 4 Giants 0 SP-Jones
4-1 Mets win series 3-1
4/26/02 F Milwaukee 7-0 Estes 1 138-102 W 1-0
6/20/02 Th Minnesota (A) 1-0 Trachsel 7 141-104 W 3-2
9/29/07 Sa Florida16-13 Maine 10 195-162 W 13-0
5/15/08 Th Washington 4-8 Pelfrey 4 199-168 L 1-0
It all made so much sense. Every time. This had to be the night. Or the day. All the stars were aligned. I could think of so many reasons that the first Mets’ no-hitter was going to take place at Shea Stadium with me on hand to witness it.
Start with the most basic premise: Wouldn’t it be crazy if it happened while I was here? The franchise has waited since its inception for it, I’m at a minute percentage of games, yet it’s unfolding right here, right now…with me in attendance! What’re the odds?
I don’t remember learning definitively that the Mets had never had a no-hitter. It was just one of those things I knew. I don’t remember learning about America being founded in 1776 or that 2 + 2 equaled 4. You don’t learn it, you simply understand it and accept it and take it from there.
The Mets have never had a no-hitter. Of course they haven’t.
Funny thing, the second game I ever went to — my first win — was a one-hitter. Jon Matlack shut out the Cards on June 29, 1974 with such ease that his one-hitter seemed unremarkable. The one hit was by the St. Louis pitcher, John Curtis, in the third. By then the Mets were winning 2-0. By then I had watched my first Old Timers Day, most noteworthy for Maury Wills playing with a headset on as he covered it for NBC. My other big observation was the filling out of All-Star Ballots. I’m sure I voted for Johnny Bench over Jerry Grote because I took my responsibility serious as death. The observation part was two guys a few rows down from me arguing the point. “Grote over BENCH? You’re voting for Grote over BENCH?” The guy had to have said it a dozen times. I learned that people like to repeat themselves.
Matlack had a one-hitter. It didn’t seem worth mentioning let alone repeating. The Mets were always having one-hitters. Seaver had thrown approximately one a year for as long as I could remember (which at age 11 I have to admit wasn’t all that far back). One-hitters were Confederate currency in terms of pitching gems. I always laughed when announcers referred to pitchers losing a one-hitter, as in giving up a second hit. What’s to lose? It was right there with “he almost made a great play” in terms of achievement.
A no-hitter would be different. A no-hitter was rare, and not just for the Mets. No-hitters got their own list in the paper. Someone threw a no-hitter anywhere in baseball and it was on the back page. First sports record book I ever owned, a New York Times almanac that covered the events of 1968, printed the boxscores of every no-hitter from that year, The Year of The Pitcher. Catfish Hunter threw a perfect game. Ray Washburn and Gaylord Perry exchanged no-hitters against each other’s team on consecutive nights. Those were pitching feats. That’s what I wanted.
I would wait. I’d have been happy to have seen one on TV, heard one on the radio. I was not going to be even that happy. As the years went by, the yen grew a little deeper. TV…radio…no no-hitter. At Shea? C’mon, that was never gonna happen.
But the first sign that it possibly could have was exhilarating. It wasn’t just a no-hitter, but a perfect game. For three innings in 1982, Craig Swan gave up nothing to the Phillies. The Mets never held an opposing team off base for three consecutive innings, let alone to start the game. With one out in the fourth, Pete Rose walked. There, Joel and I told each other, goes the perfect game. But Swannie retired the next two Phils. No hits through four. No hits through five. We didn’t talk about it, but we were watching a no-hitter, the first no-hitter in Mets history take place.
Of course we didn’t talk about it. We knew better. We’d been schooled in protocol. Mets fans didn’t need a no-hitter in order to know how to act. Somebody slipped us the notes, probably somebody on the Astros where they had a no-hitter every ten minutes.
The silent act stretched into the sixth when, with two out, it was Rose again. He singled off Swan. There went history. We stood — everybody stood; it’s what you do — and applauded Craig Swan’s effort. The Mets were winning 7-0 by then and, honestly, did you really expect him to pitch a no-hitter?
Stronger no-hit bids emerged as the Mets improved. Doc Gooden came oh-so-close at Shea in 1984, surrendering just an infield hit to Keith Moreland of the Cubs, one that could have been scored an error on Ray Knight and nobody could have complained. That I watched on TV in Tampa, saying nothing to anyone in my dorm, but thinking no-no all the way. A year later, Sid Fernandez seemed en route to destiny at Shea against the Reds. I was so sure that this would be the one that after six spotless innings I unwrapped an audio cassette to record the final innings on WHN. Davey Concepcion led off the seventh with a homer, Sid fell apart and the Mets lost.
I was chastened. I not only was reminded not to say anything aloud, I learned that thinking it was bad news. But good thoughts are so hard to shoo away when the one great moment in Mets history that hasn’t happened is in sight. I couldn’t shoo away the thoughts in 1986 when Bobby Ojeda took his no-hitter into the seventh when with one out Luis Rivera singled. It was the magical year of 1986, I was with two of my best friends and a no-hitter seemed greedy, so I let it go. The following May, El Sid was doing it again. That no-hit stuff that was always being talked up was in effect. Five hitless for Sid. Then he leaves with a knee or a hip or the gout. That was Sid. The combined no-hitter died after 5-1/3 (thanks Sisk). But again, it was too good a night to mope about the no-hitter. It was my first date with Stephanie. I’d only begun to lightly hint that we were witnessing a possible baseball, never mind personal, milestone when it evaporated on the spot.
(The Sid bid lives on in our wedding video wherein best man Chuck reads the letter I wrote him after that night, me babbling on about Sid’s flirtation with history…and, oh yeah, my flirtation with this blonde I’d just met.)
No-hit attempts would come and go with me off-premise. Gooden took another one against the Cubs deep until Damon Berryhill ended it in the eighth in ’88. I swear I thought David Cone was going to nail his down in ’92 against the Astros, but Benny Distefano got a hit with five outs to go. Gooden and Coney seemed like such good bets for no-hitters, too. Anyway, I wasn’t at those games and by the ’90s, when a no-hitter appeared possible on television, I started talking it up while in progress. It wasn’t working the old-fashioned way, so what the hell?
However, when next faced with the actual possibility of a no-hitter in my midst, I clung to tradition. I thought for sure Rick Reed was going to do it in 1998. It was too good not to happen.
First off, it was the Devil Rays, the first-year Devil Rays, the horrendous 26-35 Devil Rays. What a setup! I was at the first Devil Rays game at Shea as part of my six-pack. I would have sought them out anyway for novelty’s sake, but still. Who thinks in terms of the Devil Rays? Even then?
So it was strange having them there, but strange is what you need, right? Plus Rick — the only Met I actually, sort of, kind of knew, friend-of-a-friend style at that point. Because of my once-removed relationship with Rick, wouldn’t it be fitting if he got us off the schneid and did it front of me? He was having a dynamite 1998 and nobody, by my reckoning, deserved it more. For what it was worth, he carried a no-no into the fifth when I and about 2,000 people watched at Shea the previous May. It seemed silly to consider a no-hit bid then, Reed a non-union interloper, the ’97 Mets only starting to find their footing. It didn’t seem silly in June of ’98.
I’m sure there were other reasons it seemed like a such good idea. Like Mike Piazza clubbing his first Shea Met home run that night. And Reed himself driving in a run. And the Mets never having had a no-hitter before.
Actually, it was a perfect game. Rick Reed had set down the Devil Rays twice through the order. It was that easy, it was that obvious. As the night went on, the electricity hummed. Slowly, through the fourth, the fifth, definitely the sixth, everybody figured out what was going on. My friend from work who joined me that night heard the cheering, looked at the scoreboard then looked at me and said “I just realized what’s going on.” That was the sixth.
Yes, we all realized what was going on. It was perfectly apparent. Perfectly!
Quinton McCracken popped out to lead off the seventh. A roar! Miguel Cairo grounded to Ordoñez. A mighty roar! Ohmigod, it’s really gonna happen! Tonight! It’s…
Wade Boggs doubled.
We were up on our feet, as we were in 1982 for Swannie, as were in 1986 for Ojeda, as would have been for El Sid in ’87 had he not hobbled off because of injury. It was a helluva run for Reeder and it would wind up being a helluva game: 3 hits, 10 strikeouts, a complete game shutout. So close, but plenty good. On the way to the 7 turnstiles, some dopey kid held up a cardboard sign urging that if we wanted to see “real baseball,” we should go to 161st Street in the Bronx. I saw some of the realest baseball I’d ever see right here at 126th and Roosevelt.
Problem with coming close to a no-hitter is you kind of expect another chance soon. It’s like the time I caught a foul ball in my first Spring Training game. I assumed they’d just keep bouncing my way. They didn’t. As I started to go to Shea fairly regularly, I looked for it as I never looked for it before Reeder’s effort. Now I wanted in. It seemed the 36+ years had taken a toll on everybody’s psyche. It used to be the occasional wise guy would greet the first opposition hit with “there goes the no-hitter, chuckle, chuckle”. I’m sure I began to hear it a lot more around 1998. I know I said it to myself, oh, practically every day.
Yet when faced with the next legitimate in-person no-hit opportunity, I was too chicken to really take advantage of it. Well, it’s more up to the pitcher and his teammates, but as Game Four of the 2000 Division Series got underway and Bobby Jones began mowing down Giants, it was hard not to notice a perfect game in progress. If we were entering the fifth inning of any other Mets-Giants game at any time in the history of the world, of course I’d be there with my no-hit thinking cap screwed tight to my head.
But this was a potential clinching playoff game. Would it offend the gods if I rooted for a perfect game, even a no-hitter when there was more pressing business at hand? Job one was defeating the Giants and advancing to the next round. Now if Bobby should happen to decide to not allow any hits, that would be great, but to make that bargain would be mighty tricky, though on the other hand…
Kent led off the fifth with a double. My negotiations were for naught. On the very bright side, he threw a one-hitter, the Mets won the series and the non-no-hitter was no more than delightful trivia. Still, maybe if I’d had a little more confidence, the drought would have ended.
What’s confidence got to do with it? I was confident as all get-out in 2002 when newcomer Shawn Estes was taking care of the Brewers, another innately unlikely opponent, with ease. Too many things were happening. The Milwaukee pitcher was Glendon Rusch, an ex-Met. An ex-Met. Had to be a sign. Jay Payton homered in the second and nobody else scored. It was tighter than tight. Estes kept responding. Alex Ochoa was in the Brewer lineup. Another ex-Met! Rusch’s catcher was Raul Casanova…OK, it would be cheating to imply I knew Raul was a former Met farmhand let alone a future Met backstop, but still. The Brewers being in the National League had always seemed a mite absurd. And Shawn Estes? Shawn Estes was kind of my generic ballplayer name for when I needed an example of some pitcher who was a little above average. No, I wouldn’t trade him for somebody like Shawn Estes, I’d answer hypothetical swap proposals contemptuously. But now in 2002, the Mets had Shawn Estes and Shawn Estes was pitching the game of his and possibly my life.
Did I mention this was a perfect game for six innings, too? That Shawn was that good? That the leadoff hitter in the seventh for the Brewers was Eric Young, who I once heard grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey? That everybody at Shea was riding on every pitch, that nobody was saying a word as to why? That Young singled clean to left?
The exercise would be repeated to a certain extent a couple of months later when the Twins came to Shea for the first Interleague time and the most absurd Met hurler of them all, Steve Trachsel, flirted with the feat that would not accept amorous advances. Another American League team on busman’s holiday; another eighteen up, eighteen down; another night of exchanging knowing glances and clearing throats. Steve Trachsel…the Twins…me here…it was too ridiculous to contemplate seriously.
Steve lulled Jacque Jones into a leadoff groundout in the seventh but then slowly gave up a line drive single to Cristian Guzman. Again, we stood and applauded. Trax pitched great, even fast, but this was now beginning to feel self-parodying. If Steve Trachsel, the Heinz Ketchup of the Mets’ rotation, could almost pitch a no-hitter…if I could be on hand for the longest, most baffling streak in Major League history to continue again…how bleeping hard it could be to actually see one of these damn things to its fruition?
I wanted our no-hitter. It didn’t have to be mine. It would belong to all of us. It would pop up as a possibility at Shea with me in other places. Trachsel would give it another shot the next year (I listened on the radio as I walked 23rd Street, convinced this was it); Gl@v!ne seemed unhittable while I sat through the opening number of Bombay Dreams (sure, it has to happen while I’m at a show…and it has to be him); Pedro, sweet Pedro, was as certain to bury the curse or the streak or whatever it was against the Astros as Cone was thirteen years earlier. Chris Burke took care of that dream.
Of course it didn’t happen in ’03 or ’04 or ’05, just as it didn’t happen in ’02 or ’98 or ’82 or any year you’d care to name. It wouldn’t come close for reals until the very, very end of the 2007 season when, à la Bobby Jones in 2000, John Maine pitched a must-win game with no-hit stuff. Maine and the Mets had to win, that was what was important. But the team was up by double-digits in runs and Maine kept a zero on the board under H and godammit, with September going as September had gone, wouldn’t it be nice — no, wouldn’t it be justice — if John Maine threw the first no-hitter in Mets history against the stupid Florida Marlins in Game 161 with just about everything on the line?
Absolutely would have been. Absolutely didn’t occur. This was the most agonizing non-no-hitter of them all in my Log. Paul Hoover, who I didn’t even notice entering the game (he replaced the ejected, repulsive Miguel Olivo after the other sidebar of the day, the Mets’ first brawl in eleven years), ended it with two out in the eighth on the slowest of nonentity rollers you’d ever want to shield your eyes from. When stupid Hoover reached base, the capacity crowd rose to give John his due. I clapped twice and headed to the men’s room. My superstition wouldn’t allow me to go there earlier. The men’s room also had a door I could slam against a wall.
I wasn’t really fooled when in the middle of May Mike Pelfrey teased me onto the same ride I’d taken so many times before. I was willing to hold it in for six innings. I was willing to find signs that this was the day (Gary, Keith and Ron broadcasting from the Upper Deck was a nice, surreal touch). I was willing to go through the nodding and winking motions with my companions. I was willing to believe the tenth time was a charm. That the Mets hadn’t scored yet added to it an ounce of legitimacy. It was like listening to Tom Seaver getting to two outs in the ninth of a nothing-nothing game in Chicago in 1975 only to hear Joe Wallis ruin everything. I was crestfallen that Aaron Boone ruined the illusion leading off the seventh. But I wasn’t surprised.
I’ve never seen a Mets’ no-hitter at Shea. I will never see a Mets’ no-hitter at Shea. Maybe in the next joint. Maybe in the next life. Maybe if I stop thinking about it altogether.
No matter where I stand, how I sit, what I do, if I whiz, the Mets keep not getting that no-hitter. History, too, likes to repeat itself.