That darn Giancarlo Stanton really did it to us Sunday. What a bastard.
The walkoff grand slam that added a fashionable dent to the fishy Home Run Sculpture? No, not that (though that sucked, too). I’m talking about Stanton’s first hit, the single to center that opened the bottom of the second, which was the Marlins’ first hit of the game. That’s the one that did the historical damage to the Mets.
Stanton’s single extended the most ignominious regular-season streak going in baseball, a streak built upon the work of 1,524 baseball players in all, including…
Honestly, it would probably be easier to start listing players who hadn’t preceded Giancarlo Stanton (who did it once before, back when he was Mike Stanton), but I don’t have that list. I have this other list. And this other list includes, in addition to Stanton/the Stantons…
• Julian Javier first, chronologically.
• Pete Rose first, cumulatively.
• Dick Groat, four times almost immediately, and fourteen times besides.
• Jimmy Rollins and Juan Pierre, early, often and lately.
• Gary Carter 18 times, Lenny Dykstra 15 times, Keith Hernandez 14 times, Ray Knight and Wally Backman three times each and Darryl Strawberry twice.
• Bill Buckner 25 times.
• Jose Reyes just once — very, very recently, though.
• Leron Lee four times, though he’s known best for this one time; Joe Wallis just the one time you would guess; and Jimmy Qualls not once but twice!
• And if you think that rates an exclamation point, consider Tom Seaver did it once, too.
I mean, Tom Seaver did it once, too!
As soon as you saw the name “Qualls,” you probably figured out this list has something to do with breaking up Met no-hitters. Actually, this list has everything to do with breaking up Met no-hitters, which goes a long way in explaining why the Mets have no no-hitters.
Why? Because somebody’s always getting the first hit of a game against Mets pitchers.
When we think of Met no-hitters being broken up, we tend to veer instinctively to the heartbreakers, like the only three times one of them was carried into a ninth inning, all by Tom Seaver. Those were ruined with one out by Jimmy Qualls in 1969, with one out by Leron Lee in 1972 and with two out (albeit in the bottom of the ninth in a scoreless game) by Tarzan Joe Wallis in 1975. We also tend to think of near-misses that inched almost as close, those spoiled by the likes of Paul Hoover against John Maine in 2007 or Chris Burke against Pedro Martinez in 2005 or Wade Boggs against Rick Reed in 1998 or Ernie Banks against Gary Gentry in 1970, to name four that left marks as deep as Stanton’s homer did within the infrastructure of Red Grooms’s conversation piece.
We never think about something as pedestrian as M/G Stanton singling off Jon Niese in the second inning, but the second inning is where nearly 24% of all Met no-hitters are taken from us. That’s the second-most common inning for the death of our dreams, behind only — you got it — the first inning, where just about 58% of Met no-hitters meet their untimely end. It may not be as dramatic as Chin-Hui Tsao or Kit Pellow or Cole Hamels or the rest of those schlubs breaking things up just as we’re beginning to believe this is the one, but the bottom line is just as definitive.
Met no-hitters are broken up at all junctures by all kinds of batters — famous and obscure, cozily familiar and utterly nefarious, from 1962 to 2012, until whenever a Met no-hitter finally isn’t broken up at all.
That date is purely TBD, and it’s about the only fact the guy who put together the data from which I quote can’t tell me. For this treasure trove of perversely entertaining statistical goodies (as Tex Antoine might have ill-advisedly quipped had he done sports instead of weather, if the breaking up of a Met no-hitter is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it), I have absolutely committed Mets fan and FAFIF reader — is there any other kind of either? — JoeNunz to thank. Without a Web site of his own or any cause greater than loitering at the corner of obsession and curiosity, Joe has dug into Retrosheet and discerned the initial hit-getting killjoys in every one of the Mets’ first 8,002 regular-season games.
Joe’s explanation of why this list exists? “Somebody cares about this stuff, I suppose.”
Talk about selling one’s creation short. His so-called “data dump” is found art, beautiful in its lack of judgment. For 8,002 games, a Met no-hitter has failed to ignite. Joe tabbed the 1,524 culprits and spread them out across an amazing Excel spreadsheet. “WANTED” posters couldn’t do a better job of illustrating what a rich tapestry of baseball villains remain unavenged after 50+ years.
The tally starts on April 11, 1962, when it was Julian Javier singling to left off Roger Craig in the bottom of the first inning at the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis, unleashing the original “there goes the no-hitter!” cry from Mets fans. Say this for Craig: he waited until the second batter to allow the breaking up to commence, having retired Curt Flood on a fly to center before Javier did his extremely imitable thing. Longtime Cardinal Julian Javier would go on to break up 17 Met no-hitters in all — and a generation later, his son, Stan Javier, broke up seven more.
Breaking up Met no-hitters: It’s a family affair.
You can’t help but notice how present Dick Groat is almost right off the bat, probably because he was the second Pirate hitter Met pitchers saw every time the Mets played Pittsburgh in April 1962, which was a lot. As the Mets were going 0-for-9 in their first nine games, Groat was establishing a sizable lead among breaker-uppers, eventually becoming the cad responsible for ruining 18 potential Met no-hitters in his career. By comparison, the leadoff hitter he hit behind, Bill Virdon, put the kibosh on only a dozen Met no-hitters.
To really etch a lasting place on a list that encompasses everybody from Hank Aaron (24) to Paul Zuvela (2), you have to stick around. That would explain why baseball gods in the twilight of their careers when the Mets began their existence in a haze of futility don’t necessarily dominate these ranks. Stan Musial, for example, collected a mere three first hits against the Mets, meaning The Man did no more such damage than passing fancies/intermittent Met killers like Cody Ross, Mark Whiten, Raul Ibañez and Joe Randa — who, in turn can claim as many first hits as accumulated by Ricky Ledee, Joe McEwing, Ken Boyer and David Segui, to name four Mets from when they weren’t Mets. That’s the non-judgmental nature of JoeNunz’s list. The names fall where they fall when they fall, not unlike those darn base hits.
Leading off a game against any Met starter from Juan Acevedo to Victor Zambrano would figure to give a batter a leg up on shooting the clown, as they say, and indeed roughly a quarter of all Met no-hitters are taken out of commission by the first rival batter in any contest. Thus, it’s not surprising that leadoff hitters who stuck around forever are the ones who tend to stick it to the Mets forever.
You thought we hated Pete Rose because he took out his frustrations on Buddy Harrelson? Maybe it’s really because he there-wented the no-hitter a staggering 86 times (plus once in the 1973 playoffs, with a fourth-inning single the day after he got physical with our beloved shortstop). Charlie Hustle’s category leadership is an inevitable symptom of being a nagging National League top-of-the-order pest across almost half of the Mets’ existence to date. Rose dashed Met no-hit aspirations for the first time on June 15, 1963, at Crosley Field against Tracey Stallard and for the last time (as a second-place hitter) against Rick Aguilera at Shea Stadium on July 24, 1985.
You can bet nobody’s close to Rose on this list, but a couple of those who are remotely nearby have been getting on base and our nerves throughout the last decade. Jimmy Rollins increased his total to 52 Met no-hit breakups last week, which puts him one behind Rose runner-up Ryne Sandberg. Fellow Phillie and erstwhile Marlin Juan Pierre did the deed twice in the same series at Citizens Bank Park, giving him 36 clown-shootings, thus winning him sole possession of ninth place just ahead of ancient tormentors Andre Dawson, Ozzie Smith and Guy For Whom Ozzie Smith Was Traded Garry Templeton.
Templeton, in case you zoned out for a few months in 1991, tried to make up for his bad behavior by donning a Mets uniform prior to retiring. It didn’t begin to compensate for wrecking 35 potential Met no-hitters, but it did provide Garry an additional fragment of Met notoriety as he was starting to depart from active duty. Nobody who ever played for the Mets broke up more Met no-hitters than Templeton.
Garry leads the likes of Larry Bowa (30), Brett Butler (30), Joe Torre (30), Rusty Staub (26), Tim Foli (26), Willie Mays (24, natch), Ron Hunt (24), Luis Castillo (24) and Gary Sheffield (24) in earning varying degrees of cognitive Met no-hit dissonance. If you’re a Met completist, you have to blink twice before realizing guys you rooted for — like Carter, Hernandez and a passel of 1986 Mets — helped keep the ignominy alive.
Bowa’s Met tenure was brief and ineffectual, plus he was a Phillie; no wonder he’d screw with our no-hitters. Mays was great for a pre-Met eternity; surely he ruined everybody’s no-hitters. But Le Grand Orange being such a royal pain in this regard is a little surprising until you acknowledge that for all his essential two-term Metness, he did play a lot of seasons for Houston and Montreal. And Luis Castillo? The guy who was shy about using two hands found the time to strangle two-dozen no-hitters from our grasp (most notably in a one-hitter improbably tossed by Aaron Heilman)? Makes sense if you think about it: He batted high in the Marlins’ lineup for many a year, and the Mets play a hundred games annually against the Marlins.
But if you don’t think about it, you’re better off, because it’s Luis Castillo.
You are also well off to not dwell on one more reason to not want to bid Chipper Jones a fond adieu, just an adieu (25 first hits); should never feel bad about changing the course of Bill Buckner’s future from Game Six onward (25 first hits, plus Games Five and Seven of the 1986 World Series); and even you “ya gotta respect what a great player he is” apologists will shudder to learn there’s one player here who has never spent a day in the National League yet has notched as much Met no-hitter wreckage as Mays, Hunt, Castillo, Aaron, Davey Lopes, Barry Bonds, Dave Parker…yes, Derek Jeter has snuffed out our hypothetical hopes in their larval stages a staggering 24 Interleague times.
That’s not counting his leadoff home run off Bobby Jones in Game Four of the 2000 World Series. ’Cause to do that would just be mean.
The idea informing the mining of JoeNunz’s data is not cruelty but capriciousness. It’s celebrating the weird unpredictability of how our no-hitters haven’t come to be. Granted, the upper tier is not that unpredictable. Really, who wouldn’t have assumed Rollins, Jones and Jeter had embedded into their souls an extra layer of evil devoted to ensuring so many Met pitchers wouldn’t pitch no-hitters? And JoeNunz had no problem predicting weeks in advance of this past Friday that milestone Met game without a no-hitter No. 8,000 would be the product of a Jose Reyes leadoff triple — because, let’s face it, how could it not have been?
To steer this thing in a more lighthearted direction, let us consider Jimmy Qualls, whom even the most slightly prepared student of Mets history recognizes as the one-hit wonder who stabbed Tom Seaver’s bid for a perfect game in the back with a vile clean single to left-center at Shea Stadium on July 9, 1969, when Tom was a mere two outs from keeping the lack of Met no-hitters from being a thing. What only Jimmy Qualls would know is Qualls did it again the very next week. Granted, the circumstances weren’t nearly as epic, but it was still the Mets and Cubs, it was still a battle to gain footing in a pennant race and it was still Qualls with the first hit, this one off Gary Gentry on July 15, 1969: leadoff single, bottom of the third at Wrigley Field. As happened six days earlier, Qualls’s devilishness wasn’t enough to puncture the Met balloon, as Gentry led the upstarts from New York to a 5-4 victory.
Gary gave up 121 first hits in his four seasons with us, or seventeenth-most among Met starting pitchers, wedging him between Jack Fisher (133) and Pat Zachry (112). The leader on this side of the non-no-hitters is, as you’d suspect, Tom Seaver, with 394 games started and zero no-hitters accomplished. That’s despite being Tom Seaver and all that implies. You know about Qualls. You probably (I would hope) have heard that Lee of the Padres and Wallis of the Cubs also got in the way of the Franchise burnishing his legacy that much more. And no doubt you know Seaver finally threw the no-hitter he deserved in 1978, even though the color scheme of his uniform that day was a sad shade of Cincinnati red.
But who knew…I mean WHO KNEW…that Tom Seaver has a place in the grab bag of no-hitter breaker-uppers alongside a jumble of Pat Borques, Colby Rasmuses, Alex Cintrons, John Tamargos and too many to sanely name with ONE Met no-hitter broken up to his credit. Or discredit, if you’re scoring at home.
At Shea Stadium on August 28, 1981, after his catcher, Mike O’Berry, had walked with one out in the top of the third inning, Seaver the Red beat out a sacrifice bunt attempt against Ed Lynch. It was scored the first Cincinnati hit of the evening. Therefore, when he landed on first, Tom had made sure his name would carry a touch of bizarre infamy within the broader, already bizarre discussion of Met no-hit attempts gone bad.
Which, of course, would be every Met no-hit attempt ever. At least until tonight.