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Depth Takes a Halladay

Geez, Roy Halladay’s good. Or as one of my dear friends in all matters Mets put it, “Can’t believe you wanted him to pitch the no-hitter. F history, F the Phillies.”

Normally, yes, but this was something F’ing special [1]. The Reds weren’t coming back. Games aren’t over until they’re over and all that, but it was pretty F’ing obvious Cincinnati could only dream of maintaining high hopes in this one. We’re nine outs, six outs, three outs from watching the only postseason no-hitter anybody has ever seen on color television. I know it’s the Phillies, I know we hate them in Yankeesque proportions, I know it’s anathema to not want anvils falling on every red-capped head at Citizens Bank Park — pitcher’s mound included — but it wasn’t like the Mets were gonna pick up a half-game in any of this.

Or, if I may invoke the 1992 election for the second time in a week [2], the first George Bush settled with minimal hesitation into his chair on the Truman Balcony to watch the fireworks show hailing the imminent inauguration of Bill Clinton, the man who was sending him packing from the White House. What the hell, the outgoing president said to a companion, we’ve got the best view in town for this.

Mets fans have grown accustomed to great views of postseason baseball on TV just as we have no-hitters beamed in from distant precincts. So if the two things we can’t have are right in front of us, we might as well sit back and enjoy as best we can.

I enjoyed watching Halladay close shop on the Reds. What an exclamation point on this lower-case year of the pitcher. What a game of catch he was having with Carlos Ruiz. It looked quite a bit like the night Armando Galarraga was dealing to the Indians [3], but those were the Indians. These were the Reds, from the hard-hitting portion of Ohio. This was the playoffs, for goodness sake. This was a brilliant pitcher who toiled in relative obscurity — also known as Canada — for more than a decade. Shouldn’t stepping up to the big stage make a fella a wee bit nervous?

Didn’t seem to bother Halladay. As the game wore on, he grew untouchable. The only Reds bat that remotely threatened his exquisiteness was a bat left on the ground. Brandon Phillips whacked Halladay’s last pitch a good 80 or 90 inches and his lumber threatened to tangle up immortality the way Jim Joyce got in the way of Galarraga’s. But stuff like that never seems to work against the Phillies, does it? Ruiz pounced on the ball, threw it to first and Halladay completed the no-hitter in as mussless, fussless fashion as one could imagine.

The man was so calm afterwards. Perhaps he was dazed or, more likely, he’s immensely professional. Halladay gave interview after interview indicating all the satisfaction of a man who had gotten his throwing in before running wind sprints in Clearwater in February. He didn’t seem unhappy (he’s not Steve Carlton) but he kept his emotions in check. Good move. It’s Game One. The Reds were through before they even started Wednesday, but even these short series can become long series, and Cincy — league leaders in home runs, runs scored, batting average and OPS — has been known to hit.

Just not off Roy Halladay, just not in Game One of this particular NLDS.

The Phillies were pretty good a year ago, but all they had by way of reliable starters was Cliff Lee (who’s still pretty good [4]), and they traded him. Yet here they are, deeper than ever in the pitching department. Roy Halladay replaced Lee. Cole Hamels returned from his sabbatical of immaturity and, for good measure, they nabbed Roy Oswalt at the trading deadline. If the no-hit bid had been Hamels’ or Oswalt’s, I probably would have passed on history. Hamels has a big mouth. Oswalt once brushed back Cliff Floyd a little too feistily. Halladay? All I really knew about him before 2010 (beyond his numbers) was now and then I’d flip by YES when the Yankees were in Toronto and he’d be winning 6-1. I have nothing against this guy beyond his uniform and how good he is in it against us.

But, again, we’re not there. The only no-hitter we were a part of last night happened 35 years ago and, per usual, it didn’t actually happen. After the traditional October Twinplosion [5] occurred on TBS, I discovered Mets Yearbook: 1975 was reairing on SNY. It was expert propaganda in its time and of course it holds up beautifully. Mike Vail, Roy Staiger, Mike Phillips, Ken Sanders…good lord, we’re going to be great in ’76! In the midst of all this spectacular futurizing, there’s Randy Tate, the fourth starter in a rotation that begins with Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman. Tate was a 5-13 pitcher in his one and only major league season, running up an ERA of 4.45, but he did have his moments in 1975, just about all of them one night at Shea against Montreal.

As the highlight film elaborates and a shot of the scoreboard illustrates, Randy Tate has pitched a no-hitter through seven innings. The Shea crowd of 10,720 is applauding heartily as Tate strikes out his first batter, Jose Morales, in the top of the eighth. What the film doesn’t show is a 12-year-old version of myself, in the bathtub, hanging on Bob Murphy’s every word. No Mets pitcher has ever thrown a no-hitter, but young Randy Tate now stands five outs… And with that reality acknowledged over WNEW-AM, Jim Lyttle singles. There goes the no-hitter, but the Mets are still winning 3-0. Four batters later (Pepe Mangual, Jim Dwyer, Gary Carter and Mike Jorgensen — every one of them eventually a Met), Tate is on the wrong end of a 4-3 score. When the game is over, his record falls to 4-10.

But not to worry. Randy Tate, according to the 1975 highlight film, will be a big part of the Mets’ plans for years to come.

In a sense, he is. I’m still waiting for someone to pick up his final five outs. I’m still waiting for the first no-hitter in Mets history. Therefore, I’m still amenable to generally rooting for no-hitters that don’t do us direct damage in lieu of relishing one of our own. We have none of our own 35 years since Randy Tate couldn’t put away the Expos — eighth in the National League in home runs, tenth in runs scored and OPS, last in batting average.

It would have been pretty F’ing special if Randy Tate could have no-hit the Montreal Expos on August 4, 1975.