Mets fans understand each other because of our shared language, a common tongue that allows us to communicate with one another in a form of shorthand that speaks to our peaks of triumph, our valleys of despair and those plains on which we journey for the journey’s sake. Taken as a whole, our shared language provides us with an ever-growing vocabulary in which new phrases continue to enter our conversation, sometimes in narrow usage, sometimes for fleeting periods.
But then there are the nights when our unabridged dictionary requires a whole new edition be printed. June 1, 2012 was one of those nights.
Our Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2012 — the award bestowed to the entity or concept that best symbolizes the year in Metsdom — is No-Hitter Nomenclature. Because once Johan Santana threw something we never saw before, we were able to say things we never had previously.
Here are some of the thoughts we never dreamt we’d be vocalizing prior to the night of June 1, as well as some the phrases we now speak in a completely different context.
• “It has happened!” Gary Cohen, voice noticeably breaking, channeling what each and every one of us was thinking when Johan Santana struck out David Freese to accomplish the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History. Gary’s succinct expression of amazement replaced the far more shopworn “You think it will ever happen?” and “Maybe tonight…nah, never mind.”
• “8,020.” That’s how many regular-season games it took for the Mets to have a First No-Hitter. Counting came into vogue in recent years, led by the doggedly dutiful nonohitters.com. The count ended with Santana’s last pitch. The current count is 110 — but who’s counting?
• “134 pitches.” The most internally controversial element of the no-hitter conversation. Santana, in his first season back from surgery, kept a no-hitter going past his pitch count. Only the killingest of killjoys would have been tempted to remove him…or Terry Collins, who was captured by cameras all but screwing himself into the dugout ground to resist the temptation to do the nominally responsible thing. A stubborn “shoulda taken him out” backlash developed when Santana a) failed to throw more no-hitters in 2012 and b) needed to shut his season down after pitching less and less effectively as the summer went on. But they were, in their own way, the best 134 pitches ever. Johan’s surgically repaired left shoulder was a small sacrifice to make to the gods who had devoured Tom Seaver and everybody else whole.
• “Beltran’s ball.” If “called strike three” was Carlos Beltran’s unwanted calling card as a New York Met, the double-that-wasn’t became his contribution to Met lore in his first appearance as a post-Met opponent. Why did it take 8,020 games until June 1? Because some Met pitcher always gave up a hit, usually one that didn’t need any interpretation. This time, though, Beltran belted a ball down the left filed line that was or wasn’t a sure double.
• “Adrian Johnson.” Almost all umpires are anonymous until there’s a reason to notice them. Johnson, the third base umpire, forever earned a place in Mets fans’ hearts as the anti-Angel Hernandez when he ruled Beltran’s ball foul rather than fair to start the sixth inning. It was, depending on your viewpoint, the bad call or lucky break for which the franchise had been waiting 8,019+ games. Every no-hitter is said to require some sort of cosmic assistance as well as an outstanding defensive play on its behalf.
• “Mike Baxter.” Prior to June 1, Mike Baxter was a local boy made reasonably good as a surprisingly dependable pinch-hitter. “Mike from Whitestone” was best known for admitting to being a caller to WFAN during his youth. His identity changed forever when he slammed into the left field wall’s W.B. Mason sign to take the other sure double away from the St. Louis Cardinals, this one off the bat of the notorious Yadier Molina. Baxter wrecked a collarbone and damaged some rib cartilage, shelving him for close to two months, but he saved the no-hitter. We speak of him fondly forever more.
• “Gary Carter?” The question mark refers to the mysterious way the late Mets catcher’s spirit seemed to inhabit the evening. Maybe it was the way Kid’s memory was honored on Opening Day just before Johan went out and threw five shutout innings in his first outing since 2010, almost sanctifying the pitcher’s year as something special in the making. Maybe it was the haunting scoreboard readout below the Cardinals’ “0 0 0,” the one that read, “8 8 0” as the Mets put up Carter runs and Carter hits in support of Santana’s history-changing effort. Maybe it was Josh Thole (just returned from the Disabled List in an oversized hockey mask helmet) experiencing his finest hour when he recorded the final putout from behind the plate the way we always figured Gary was going to do sooner or later on the other end of a no-hitter from Gooden or Darling or Fernandez. Maybe — and we’re not condoning this behavior — it was the presence of the one fan who forgot he wasn’t allowed on the field to celebrate with Santana, Thole and everybody else. You couldn’t miss Rafael Diaz, the jorts-sporting Long Islander who attempted to join the festive players-only dogpile on the mound, no matter how much he wanted. You could pick out Diaz pretty easily: he was the one wearing the 1986-style Gary Carter No. 8 jersey as he was dragged away by security.
• “Jim Duquette.” The long-ago Mets GM replaced lifelong Mets fan Josh Lewin for the evening in the WFAN booth alongside lifelong Mets fan Howie Rose. (And isn’t it great how every inch of the Mets’ English-language broadcasting terrain is occupied by those bearing authentic Mets pedigrees?) Lewin was off attending his daughter’s high school commencement. Rose, meanwhile, graduated to Nirvana: “In the 8,020th game in the history of the New York Mets, they finally have a no-hitter! And who better to do it than Johan Santana?” Who better to pose the question than Rose, who one way or the other witnessed the vast majority of the previous 8,019?
• “Omar Quintanilla.” To the extent bar bets are still made over such things and you are dared to wager a friendly cocktail over the identity of the Mets’ shortstop on the night the Mets finally got their first no-hitter, the name you’ll want to answer with in order to win those three fingers of Glenlivet (after you buy Mike Baxter whatever he drinks) is that of the journeyman infielder who just a couple of nights earlier replaced the injured Justin Turner on the roster. Quintanilla would be gone before the season was over, but let the record show he was in on something that eluded Bud Harrelson, Rey Ordoñez and Jose Reyes, among many other Met shortstops. Omar also had the last hit of the no-hit night, an eighth-inning single off the last Cardinal pitcher, Maikel Cleto.
• “Adam Wainwright.” Mostly the guy who struck out Beltran on October 19, 2006. But now also the losing pitcher in the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History. Didn’t give up a hit himself for the first three innings, when things appeared uncomfortably close and not yet incredibly momentous.
• “Lucas Duda.” Drove in the first, third, fourth and fifth runs to stuff a comfortable cushion for Mr. Santana to rest on during the bottoms of innings, contributions largely overlooked on a night that wasn’t about Met offense. But without Lucas blowing the lid off Wainwright, the evening’s tension develops perhaps a whole other unwanted layer of subtext. Lucas had a lousy 2012, but Duda was an unspoken MVP on June 1.
• “Nohan.” Scoreboard graphic that became a t-shirt and a line of merchandised collectibles. The Mets weren’t shy about marketing the accomplishment that took 8,020 games and 134 pitches to materialize. It would get a little crass — they also sold tickets to the game after the fact, and not at a discount — but it’s not like the Mets would have a postseason revenue stream flowing into their coffers.
• “HI57ORY.” The 7 Line’s wearable contribution to the no-hitter legacy. The shirts were a constant at Citi Field for the rest of 2012. Clever without cringe.
• “Yeah, baby!” Johan wore the no-hitter with grace in the minutes that followed his 134th pitch. He thanked the fans and told them, via Kevin Burkhardt’s SNY microphone, that this was for them. He endured Turner’s unnecessary pie to the face in good humor. He absorbed a champagne shower while Ed Coleman interviewed him in the dugout. And in the clubhouse, we saw him address his teammates as if accepting their nomination-by-acclimation to higher office, playfully ending it with an Austin Powers exclamation of satisfaction. Howie was right: Who better to do it than Johan Santana?
• “Where were you?” Actually, nobody ever asked because nobody had time to form the question. Everybody volunteered their no-hitter story without hesitation once there was a story to be told. Mets fans had waited interminably for the end point of this heretofore fruitless part of their journey. All of a sudden, we had something to not just talk about but shout about. I did my shouting here and my someone calmer talking here. Jason did some fancy counting here, albeit from out of town. And then there was the no-hitter story I love best, from someone whose “where were you?” could be answered, “I was there.”
This is the story of Faith and Fear stalwart commenter Kevin From Flushing, who invited me to join him at the Mets-Cardinals game of June 1, 2012, but I unpresciently declined the offer. My no-hitter story would’ve been completely different had I accepted; not necessarily better but different. Yet I count myself lucky that I have mine as it is and his as well.
I don’t think he’ll mind my sharing some of it with you below.
I was sitting in row 1 of 515, so it was basically just me and the game. The 500 level was behind me, and the 400 level was just below my general field of vision. Heard a lot of riff raff behind me, but nothing out of the ordinary. At the very least, there wasn’t a wave in the 7th or 8th inning while Johan was pitching, so I guess people sensed what was happening.
I was pretty goddamn annoyed at the reaction to Beltran’s return, something which was entirely swept under the rug. I’d say 25% cheers, 25% boos, and 50% indifference (or maybe it was just all the empty seats). Among the TROVES of Cards fans showing up (I miss Shea not being worth a road trip), I had Birds fans directly behind me and to the left of me. To my right, a guy in a Mets jacket and Cardinal hat (yeah). He and a friend were watching their first baseball game since 2006, from what I could gather. The fans behind me were respectful enough and didn’t factor into my enjoyment. The pair to my left…well, with my extra ticket going unclaimed, it provided a nice empty-seat buffer between me and what looked like a 55-year-old meth head. He was quiet until the 8th, at which point he shouted at Beltran, “Break up this fucking no-hitter!” Glad neither you nor I had to sit directly next to him. After the 5th or 6th I would repeatedly catch myself dreaming of the third out in the 9th inning, then shut it out completely in an effort to protect myself from disappointment. I was doing a good job of it, but if the no-hitter didn’t happen and I had to hear that guy cheering…
Well, to the more important matter, the seats to my right: the Cardinal/Met fan and his buddy left sometime around the 5th inning, saying something about grabbing coffee. They didn’t come back. I was, in a manner of speaking, an island to myself as the game went on. With a smattering of empty seats/Cardinal fans around me and tunnel vision blocking out Mets fans in the foreground, I had no real feel of the crowd (this leads to me watching cell phone videos from Citi at the moment of the no-hitter and asking, “Was I there?”). This lasted until the top of the 9th inning, when 2 fans decided they wanted a better view of history, that view being the 2 abandoned seats to my right. It was VERY difficult to resist the temptation of saying “GET BACK TO YOUR FUCKING SEATS, ASSHOLES! YOU’RE PLAYING WITH FIRE!” Of course I didn’t: it’s not my business, and for all I know they sat in a different seat at the top of each inning and were therefore doing the right thing. They were, at least, Met fans who knew what was going on. They even engaged me after the second out, asking me to stand up. One of the nice parts about being in Row 1 was it allowed me to stay squarely in my seat, hunched over with my hands on my temples, viewing Johan through the safety rails as I’ve done the whole game while the crowd below me was on their feet. I waved off my new companion without speaking a word (what words could I possibly put together besides “come on Johan… come on Johan…”?).
Then it was over. In between the tears and euphoria I absolutely had the sense that the crowd knew exactly what this meant. We were fucking partying. I heard Cowbell Man and sought him out, looking to hug anybody, alas to no avail.
I don’t know about that last part. Wherever we were on June 1, 2012, we all embraced the moment that came to fruition at approximately 9:45 PM. You can hear it in our voices still, every time we say, in whatever context, “The No-Hitter.”
We all know what that means, right?
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands