The great American writer William Faulkner wrote “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” This could be the Mets’s mission statement. The past has been a series of things fans would say never goes away, and the truth is the current Mets even playing in a new stadium cannot escape it. The ghosts of Hodges, Stengel, McGraw, and many others hover over the field, with every game being as much about what has transpired as what is going on at that moment.
So last night Mets fans everywhere were smiling because the past no longer mattered. The disappointments, the wait until next years, the arrogant Yankees fans, and all the Letterman jokes were meaningless. All of this is courtesy of Johan Santana, the best lefthander who ever pitched for this team. On this night Santana not only achieved what no Mets pitcher has ever done, but he exorcised the demons of the franchise in the process.
It seems only fitting that the night began being all about Carlos Beltran, now a St. Louis Cardinal. It was his big return and the buzz was that he was going to hurt his former team. On the mound was the infamous Adam Wainwright, he of Game 7 in the 2006 NLCS who in the ninth inning threw the third strike past Beltran who stood like a statue with the bat on his shoulder. Game over. Cardinals go to the World Series and the Mets go home and more skeletons are in the collective closet. Now Beltran and Wainwright are teammates and staring across the diamond together as Mets history is accomplished.
Santana has been a revelation since returning from his surgery and becoming the pitcher the Mets knew he could be. He is cut from the mold of a Tom Seaver or a Jerry Koosman. He is all class and all about work ethic and team spirit. He goes out there and pitches and never complains, and on this night he realizes the dream for himself and for the fans.
When it came down to it, to the final out, there was only Kevin Freese standing in the way. If Tom Seaver was watching somewhere, he was probably thinking of Jimmy Qualls, who broke up his no-hitter in the ninth a long time ago. I kept thinking Freese is no Qualls; Freese is no Qualls. I bet everyone who remembers that old game was thinking something like this. But there was no single to center field. The mighty Freese struck out and there was joy in Metsville. The greatest joy we have had this season.
There were a couple of close calls in the game. One oddly enough came off the bat of Beltran, but his ball was ruled foul. The replays show it barely touched the line, but the umps thought not. I think this in no way tarnishes the no-hitter. We can never know how many of the 249 no-hitters in MLB history before this one had a close call like that one.
The other was a rocket off the bat of Yadier Molina that kept going into the night until Queens native Mike Baxter in left field crashed against the wall to catch it. This heroic grab enters the history too, going down in the books with Cleon squeezing that final ball in 1969 and Orosco throwing his glove in the air in 1986. No, this wasn’t the World Series, but boy it felt like it was as important as that.
In truth maybe it was more important than anything that has come before. This legitimizes the franchise in ways unimaginable. The 29-23 Mets have been playing way beyond expectations, yet a crowd of only 27,000 and change got to see this gem thrown by Santana. Maybe the next time he pitches we get a capacity crowd; maybe not. But something really good is brewing in Citi Field and the fans have to get out there and taste it in person.
Terry Collins is one great manager and, like Gil Hodges before him, he is not complaining about having lemons; he is making lemonade. This was a great night during a great season so far. The Mets beat the World Champion Cardinals and they did it in style. There are more people than ever walking around town in Mets gear. The tide is shifting and the Mets are in a Renaissance. This could be 1968 or 1985 all over again, when the talent was gelling and getting ready for that big next year.
Or this could be 1969 all over again. The ghost of McGraw has me saying “Ya Gotta Believe” a lot these days, and after watching Santana throw that no-hitter, it is the best day after a regular season game ever for Mets fans. Enjoy it and bask in the glow of Santana’s glory. He deserves all the praise, but true class act that he is said that he did it for the fans. The ones who were chanting “Johan! Johan!” and the feeling is that the past isn’t past and never will be forgotten but more overcome because now the Mets are moving forward into a new era that honors that past, lives that past, and destroys all the negatives as it moves inexorably toward a positive light. That’s “Ya Gotta Believe” and then some.
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