This is no one-night stand
It’s a real occasion
Close your eyes and you’ll be there
It’s everything they say
The end of a perfect day
Ooh, wait! I’ve got another one! I know you guys are sick of me chiming in, but I can’t help it. Now that we’ve experienced the first no-hitter in Mets history and we’re seeing how many Met one-hitters we can name before we forget how we used to count Met one-hitters as if they were no-hitters because we didn’t have any no-hitters, I want to get them all on the table — especially the ones I went to.
Did I tell you I went to seven? Yeah, seven! My first Met win was a one-hitter: Jon Matlack against the Cardinals in 1974. The only hit was the St. Louis pitcher, John Curtis, in the third. It was too early in the game to notice a no-hitter had been broken up…or maybe just too early in my life going to Shea.
And I was at the Bobby Jones one-hitter against the Giants, the clincher in the 2000 NLDS. A Jeff Kent double in the fifth. I could never figure out whether I was upset over that not being a no-hitter or kind of relieved I didn’t have to worry about that aspect of the game since we were trying to win a series. Bobby worked carefully to a couple more hitters in that inning, issuing a couple of walks, but no more hits and no runs. He was perfect in the other eight innings. It was a perfect ending, no no-hitter or not.
Sometimes I forget I saw Shawn Estes one-hit the Brewers in 2002. Yes, Shawn Estes, the guy who didn’t hit Roger Clemens. That’s the only thing most Mets fans remember about him, but he prevailed in a pretty rare for its time duel against ex-Met Glendon Rusch in April 2002 in which both pitchers went the distance and the only thing that separated Shawn Estes from being remembered for something more than not hitting Roger Clemens’ ass was an Eric Young single to lead off the seventh. I can’t believe I tend to forget it as one of the best Met pitching performances I ever saw.
One of my one-hitters was kind of bogus: 2007, a five-inning affair. Shouldn’t even count, but it does. It was John Maine versus the Nationals. He gave up a leadoff single to Ronnie Belliard and nothing more. Then the sky gave up and deluged Shea. A rain-shortened one-hitter. To tell you the truth, I had to look it up to remember it was a one-hitter.
I didn’t have to look up John Maine’s other one-hitter I was at. Technically it wasn’t John Maine’s one-hitter. He shared it with two relievers you’ve probably forgotten about, Carlos Muñiz and Willie Collazo, but everybody instantly remembered it as the John Maine one-hitter. This was one of those one-hitters that stung because it wasn’t a no-hitter. We used to get really hung up on that before we got to experience our own no-hitter. It was, as Jerry Seinfeld put it in “The Contest,” part of our lifestyle…like shaving. Maine took a no-no into the eighth with two out. The opposing batter was some catcher you’d never heard of, less familiar than Carlos Muñiz and Willie Collazo combined. His hit wasn’t worthy of the word “hit”. We won 13-0. Maine struck out 14. There was a fight. We were tied for first with one game to go. Yet all anyone remembers was John Maine’s one-hitter that could have been a no-hitter except for some stupid Marlin nobody of a catcher named Paul Hoover who wouldn’t have even been playing if it hadn’t been for the fight that got their starting catcher Miguel Olivo thrown out.
I wonder if we’ll still remember that now that we have our no-hitter. I wonder if I’ll still remember any of my first six one-hitters the same way ever again. For example, will I recall at all my sixth, a combined one-hitter that started with Pedro Martinez going four, surrendering only a single to Brad Hawpe, then leaving with an injury? In came Muñiz, Heilman, Schoeneweis and Wagner. They gave up no hits. A five-man one-hitter. It fell somewhere between Maine’s five-inning one-hitter and Maine’s three-man one-hitter that was mostly Maine and some stupid Marlin on the seriousness scale.
We were always so serious about one-hitters before our first Met no-hitter. It probably started with the most famous of them all, the one that was more famous even than Bobby Jones against the Giants. That, of course, was Tom Seaver and Jimmy Qualls, July 9, 1969. It was the third one-hitter in Mets history, but it instantly became the flagship. You know about it. We all know about it. It’s got its own plaque outside Citi Field. Even Bobby Jones’s one-hitter that clinched a playoff series doesn’t have that.
No wonder it stands out: Twenty-five Cubs up, twenty-five Cubs down; Shea so packed that fans had to sit in the aisles; the Mets closing in on first place for the first time ever; Seaver young and perfect. Then Qualls singles. The Mets won — Tom quickly retired the next two batters — but something was definitely imperfect about this otherwise grand occasion. No wonder Nancy Seaver was in tears. Tom wanted to know, “What are you crying for? We won 4-0.”
But we know why. We know what got away, and we know that what we got instead, no matter how stupendous, was no substitute.
It was a one-hitter. It became our version of the no-hitter. It was our runner-up ribbon, our Miss Congeniality sash. It was the headline below the fold on the front page that announced we’d just been elected vice president.
It was a one-hitter. It wasn’t a no-hitter. It was the best we could do without doing the best we could do.
Some Met one-hitters were Quallsish in their heartbreak. Seaver had another of that ilk in 1972, going to the ninth again, one out away again, until Leron Lee broke it up for the Padres.
Others got away earlier but hung heavy in the air for years to come. In 1984, Dwight Gooden gave up an infield hit to Keith Moreland of the Cubs in the fifth and nothing else. A more sensible (or humane) official scorer would have found a way to charge Ray Knight with an error.
Still others gnawed at our nerves in real time with their sense of possibility that went ultimately unfulfilled. T#m Gl@v!ne, of all Mets, challenged the unchallengeable clear into the eighth inning in 2004 against the Rockies. I really didn’t want it to be him, the Manchurian Brave, to be the first Met to throw a no-hitter, but I wanted it to be somebody. Right around the instant I decided I would allow it to be Gl@v!ne, Gl@v!ne allowed a double to a Paul Hoover of a Rockie named Kit Pellow. Foiled again by the Manchurian Brave!
I wasn’t there for Qualls or Lee or Moreland or Pellow. I realize I told you I was at seven one-hitters yet recounted only six of them: Matlack, Jones, Estes, Maine in the rain, Maine with two relievers and Martinez with four relievers. Funny, I just realized that when I’m not at the game, I identify the game by the hitter who broke it up, but when I’m there, I call it by pitcher. Must have been a subconscious thing all those years before the first no-hitter in Mets history, me trying to burnish a fine game with the credentials of a great one. When there’s a no-hitter — as we now, at last, understand — there is no batter with whom to identify it. It’s all about the pitcher.
It was that way with the sixth one-hitter I attended, my first at Citi Field, in June 2010. The pitcher that night was Jon Niese, back when he was a third-year rookie. He’d been up briefly in ’08 and seemingly to stay in ’09, except he got hurt before he burned off his freshman status. He got hurt in 2010, too. Not badly and not for long, but long enough to make you wonder if he was somehow cursed. Sort of like the Mets seemed cursed to never throw a no-hitter.
The Mets and no-hitters…geez, I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe how long we went without one just as much as I can’t believe we finally got one. Did you notice all those names I was tossing out there before? Seaver, Gooden, Matlack, Gl@v!ne even. I could go on. Almost every Mets pitcher of note threatened to pitch a no-hitter. Any Met who pitched one would have been of note. Some got real close and gave up more than one hit. Those hurt as much as the late one-hitters like Qualls and Lee and so on. The sum total of all those attempts that came undone weighed on us. We didn’t look at any game without considering it a chance to break the streak, to get off the schneid.
C’mon, you did it yourself, right? First hit our starter gave up, even if it was to the first batter, what’d ya say?
“There goes the no-hitter.”
It was like that on June 10, 2010 with Jon Niese. Niese got through two innings against the Padres. I didn’t even see the first inning because I got to the park a little late. But I saw the 0 on the scoreboard and then I saw him keep it that way after two. I was supposed to call somebody else who was at the game. Yet I wouldn’t, not while there was a 0 under the H of the Padres. Seven innings remained and I was already thinking in those terms.
Typical Mets fan, certainly in that period before we got to experience the first no-hitter in Mets history.
The Mets took a lead in the second that June night in 2010. That was a particularly welcome development since they hadn’t done a damn thing that afternoon. This was a makeup game grafted onto a scheduled game: what they referred to as a day-night doubleheader (never mind that a doubleheader sturdily implies two games for one admission). The Mets went down listless their last 22 batters during the day portion against Mat Latos. He and his relievers gave up two Met hits in toto. Thus, when we scored a run in the second inning of the night game, it felt huge.
And when we short-circuited our crackling offensive electricity by hitting into a triple play right after that first run scored, it felt…
I don’t know how it felt. I remember it couldn’t have looked more routine. Who hits into a 5-4-3 double play anyway? Ruben Tejada, that’s who. He was a rookie at the time (the Mets started five rookies in that game, including Niese). I don’t know if he did anything wrong except he hit it to the wrong place and nobody on the Mets was fast enough to do anything about it. It couldn’t have been better choreographed in the Padres’ favor had Gene Saks been directing Bill Mazeroski à la The Odd Couple.
That could have been a big story, I suppose. I had been to a game at Citi Field in 2009 when a triple play was the big story. It was an unassisted triple play, also hit into by a Met (Jeff Francoeur) and it ended the game. This wasn’t that dramatic. Or traumatic. It was just a ground ball that produced three outs in the second inning after we took a 1-0 lead. Not everything is a crisis, you know.
I don’t know that the triple play had anything to do with momentum, but the Padres’ leadoff batter in the third, Chris Denorfia, doubled off Niese. The murmurs commenced per usual.
“There goes the no-hitter.”
Oh well, I chimed in to myself, but now at least I don’t have to stay glued to my seat like I did for Maine at the end of 2007. I can make my phone call. I can visit my friend in Promenade. I can swing by Catch of the Day on the way back to my seat on Field Level. It’s not like it was going to be a no-hitter anyway.
Niese didn’t give up anything else in the top of the third. The Mets took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third. It was going to be just another game, just another of the 7,700-plus games to that point in which a Met did not pitch a no-hitter. It was going to be yet another reason that if I were going to Cooperstown the next day, I’d behave just as I did in August 1997. Back then, my wife and I eagerly inspected every inch of every exhibit save for one: the no-hitter exhibit. “There’s no reason for us to look at that,” I said without cracking the slightest smile. I didn’t get back to Cooperstown anytime soon after that, but my rule stood.
The fourth and fifth innings flew by as I temporarily abandoned my friend Kevin and made my rounds. The Mets were leading 3-0, but I wasn’t paying much attention. My few minutes of schmoozing in Promenade centered on the triple play and our general consensus that it was routine to the point of mundane. My visit to Catch of the Day, which moved a little slower than I would have liked, resulted in a crab cake sandwich and an order of Bayside Fries, but nothing else of substance on the field behind me. Still 3-0 Mets when I got back to my seat for the top of the sixth.
The evening proceeded securely but unremarkably. Kevin and I were a last-minute hookup that night. The tickets were a surprise and the game was, as I mentioned before, a makeup. We were happy to talk Mets this and Mets that, not all that engaged by the Mets right there in front of us. Niese continued to pitch well but the Mets had stopped scoring again. The only thing we really noticed was how deep the park was playing, how every fly ball that had the slightest chance of traveling seemed to lose interest well short of the warning track. It was frustrating when the Mets batted. it was less so when they didn’t.
Had Chris Denorfia not struck in the third — and I must confess I had forgotten the identity of the sole successful Padre hitter by the seventh — it would have been different. I would not have visited Promenade. I would not have bought a crab cake and Bayside Fries. I would not have followed it with Dibs, the ice cream treat I had to have because the Bayside Fries were spicier than I thought they’d be. Kevin and I would not have been dwelling on a home run Mike Piazza hit nine years earlier off Carlos Almanzar or another home run, by Mo Vaughn off David Wells a year after that. We would have been focused solely on the present and the absolutely immediate future: the very next pitch. There would have been uncomfortable silences and strained small talk about anything but what we were focusing on. Eliminate a double by Chris Denorfia and the night in questions would have been very different.
But Denorfia had doubled. The night was no different from all other Met nights to that point in that there would be no no-hitter. Yet something novel occurred to us as Jon Niese again set down the Padres in the eighth as he had in the seventh and the sixth and so on since Denorfia in the third.
Jon Niese was working on a one-hitter.
Can you work on a one-hitter? Can you run for vice president? Can you legitimately attempt to be the best you can be without actually being the best you can be?
We — me, my friend Kevin, everyone around us — decided you could. We decided Jon Niese, third-year rookie pitcher for the New York Mets, was doing just that. Or, to be completely correct about it, he needed the opportunity to do just that. Eight innings had gone by. The Mets still led 3-0. A three-run lead on the edge of the ninth inning usually meant one course of action by the manager in 2010: call the closer. It was a save situation. The Mets, like every team in baseball, paid a specialist handsomely to protect or at least not surrender three-run leads with one inning remaining.
But what fun would that have been? Sure Francisco Rodriguez might have come in and not given up a hit, but where would that have left us? It would have left us with Maine (+2) or Pedro (+4). Not terrible, but not nearly as satisfying as Niese and Niese alone. Jon Niese, little lefty born under the very best of signs — the calendar page read October 27, 1986 — had recently battled back from a slight leg injury to return to the rotation the week before. The leg was only an issue because the year before he tore something a lot worse. He was a tough little lefty. It would have been too tough to not let him start the ninth.
It would have been ridiculous not to. This was 2010, the reincarnation of the Year of the Pitcher. This was the year of the two perfect games, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay, and the third perfect game that had been royally screwed by an umpire. That was the Armando Gallaraga perfect game, which happened just eight days earlier. Niese was pitching his one-hitter only four days after Ubaldo Jimenez, a no-hitter in his back pocket from April, had gone to 11-1, raising his ERA to 0.93. It had been barely 48 hours since Stephen Strasburg had struck out 14 while walking nobody in seven innings in his major league debut. Niese had struck out six but walked nobody in eight innings. He had thrown, Kevin informed me when I asked, 99 pitches. This was as close to the Year of the Pitcher as we were ever going to see…the Year of the Starting Pitcher. This was no time to reflexively go to a closer.
This was Jon Niese’s time.
Jerry Manuel agreed. The Mets agreed. The Mets did not trot out to their positions to start the ninth, not right away. Just Niese. It was the briefest of staggered entries, but it was fitting. We didn’t care who was going out to first, to short, to center. We just wanted to know who was pitching. We wanted to know it was Niese. And it was.
We approved. We stood and we applauded and we yelled some. A guy behind us yelled a lot. “NIESE! WE WANT NIESE!” We have him, I wanted to tell him if only to get him to stop shouting (I had such a headache), but he was right. We did want Niese. We wanted Niese to do what was routine in 1968, the original Year of the Pitcher. We wanted him to complete his own game. We wanted him to earn a shutout. We wanted him to get his one-hitter.
It could have been anybody sitting next to me in the ninth, I suppose, but I was glad it was my friend Kevin. We’d only known each other since 2007, only met each other in person in 2008 (at, of all games, the Pedro/Four Relievers one-hitter). The foundation of our friendship had been a shared longing for Shea Stadium to still exist and a parallel reluctance to embrace Citi Field. Our resistance was wearing down month by month where the latter was concerned, but our affection for the former remained steadfast. Sure, Shea didn’t have crab cake sandwiches — though it had more than its share of crabs — but it was Shea and all that implied to us. It was an old story by 2010, but it resonated.
And that’s probably why I remember this particular one-hitter at Citi Field so well, even now, even after we’ve finally attained that forever elusive first no-hitter in Mets history. I remember it well and I remember it fondly because it was only the second time I felt Shea at Citi. The first time was more of a goof. It was a blowout at the hands of the Giants in the lost year of 2009. A utility infielder named Andy Green was making his debut for us in the ninth inning when the Mets were trailing by nine runs. I instigated a wiseass chant of AND EEE GREEN! to greet him. My friends with me that night picked up on it. Then others scattered across our section joined in. Then it gained traction in a few other pockets of the park. Then Andy Green, suitably urged on, walked. We were triumphant in our Mets fandom — behind 10-1 en route to losing 10-1, but serving notice that we in the stands were still capable of finishing strong.
We finished strong that night in 2010 when Niese was working on the one-hitter. We — not just Kevin and me, but however many thousands were left at Citi Field — figured out something more than a complete game shutout was at stake for 23-year-old Jon Niese. It was a Met thing, just like it might have been at Shea, way back when Bob Murphy wasn’t simply stroking our egos by telling us we were the most knowledgeable fans in baseball. Anybody could know enough not to jinx a no-hitter. But who is determined to nurse a starting pitcher home for a one-hitter?
Mets fans, that’s who.
Lance Zawadzki grounded to Jose Reyes for the first out. Nick Hundley fouled to Ike Davis for the second out. Jerry Hairston popped a ball behind the plate. Rod Barajas, who also did a pretty fair job of nursing his starting pitcher home, went back and grabbed it in front of the screen.
Jon Niese had just pitched the 34th one-hitter in Mets history, the 24th complete game one-hitter of at least nine innings in Mets history, the seventh Mets one-hitter to which I had borne witness. It extended my personal-best winning streak of games attended to nine, for what that was worth, and it included the second triple play of my life. It was quite a little ball of statistics and distinctions, but what didn’t show up in either the boxscore or my Log was the feeling that washed over me after the last out.
I didn’t want to leave Citi Field. I wanted to stay and keep feeling what I felt for this moment, for this one-hitter, for this bit of Shea that had survived the move to Citi. Maybe it wasn’t a Shea thing anymore. Maybe it was just a Met thing. Maybe it was the first of many non-sardonic Citi things.
God, I wish it wasn’t called Citi Field. Every time I referred to it as just “Citi” in those first years, I felt I was doing somebody’s dirty corporate work for them, making a for-profit behemoth into something friendly and neighborly. But despite those t-shirts somebody was kind enough to send me in 2009, I never called it Shea. It was something else altogether. Sometimes, I decided after our night with Niese, it could be something good altogether.
On June 10, 2010, after the Jon Niese one-hitter, it was something phenomenal. I just wanted to stay, so I stayed. I applauded Niese as he came out to be interviewed. I was overjoyed when he was smacked in the face by a whipped cream pie via the mischievous hands of Angel Pagan (even though I found the pie thing rather hackneyed and pointless). I waited for the music bed they had taken to playing under game highlights at each of the victories I’d been coming to that May and June, “Uprising” by Muse. The lyrics to that song seem to urge us to rail against corporate behemoths, yet in a stadium carrying the name of one, it could come off as unironically buoyant.
We stayed as long as was feasible. There was a late summer calm to the air even though it was the second week in June. All the rain, I guess, had made the night as gentle as the Padre hitters had been against Niese. In late summer at a ballgame, even one relegated to mock-support of an AND EEE GREEN!, you really appreciate the fleeting nature of the happiness baseball can give you. You know it will be gone soon. In June 2010, however, it was too soon for that form of subtle surrender, yet who really knew? I wasn’t the only Mets fan with a fantastic Citi Field record. The Mets were the best home team in the majors at that point of 2010…and owned the fewest road wins in the National League. They’d be taking off after the game to try their luck in a couple of Interlague outposts. They had Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey and now Jon Niese. They also had all sorts of question marks. They had nearly four months to figure it out. I had more season to hold onto than the weather indicated.
Yes, that was quite a one-hitter. I can’t say it was my favorite of those I attended. I mean, Bobby Jones, clinching game, NLDS….that’s gotta be No. 1. And in broader Met terms, nothing beats Seaver beating every Cub but Qualls. That was coming of age stuff, not just for The Franchise, but for the franchise.
But the Jon Niese one-hitter still feels very special to me as far as one-hitters went when one-hitters were as far as Met pitchers would go.
Now that the Mets have the first no-hitter in their history and I no longer have cause to avoid any exhibit in Cooperstown, I don’t know how one-hitters will endure in our memory. But I have a hunch if you ask me about it in a few years, no matter how many no-hitters Met pitchers go on to record, I’ll always be able to tell you what it was like to bear witness to Jon Niese’s.