When the final out of the New York Mets versus the St. Louis Cardinals game was registered Friday, June 1, the Metropolitans finally had the first no-hitter thrown by one of their pitchers. Johan Santana used 134 pitches in recording this feat – 134 pitches that put to an end a streak of 8019 games without a no-no. That was 8019 games of frustration as the Citi Field residents were the owner of the longest current streak without spinning a no-hitter in the major leagues. The San Diego Padres now succeed the Mets as the unwilling owners of that particular statistic.
To put it in a little bit more perspective, 8019 games is more than 50 full regular season’s worth of games - half a century. It is the equivalent of approximately 68,000 innings of play. When that streak first started on April 11, 1962 Richard Nixon was the President of the United States. That’s a long time to go without someone on your team chucking a no-no. The Mets came close many times during that period with 35 one-hitters thrown by their pitchers. In that time there have been six no-hitters thrown against the Mets.
The frustration felt by New York Mets fans was building year-by-year as it seemed as if the baseball gods were against them despite Bill Buckner. Their angst was only heightened as seven ex-Mets threw no-hitters for other teams. This list included Mike Scott, Hideo Nomo, and Phil Humber who threw a perfect game a little over two months before Santana’s game. Others include Tom Seaver, the keystone starting pitcher in franchise history, who had his the first year away from the Mets. Nolan Ryan had seven no-hitters in his career after he and three other players were traded by the Mets for Jim Fregosi. But probably the worst of all was Dwight Gooden and David Cone both of whom got theirs while playing for the cross town rival New York Yankees. Further adding insult to injury, both of them came while the Yankees were at home playing in Yankee Stadium - just across town - as opposed to being on the road away from New York and Cone’s was a perfect game.
Johan Santana was pretty much breezing along when Carlos Beltran came to the plate to begin the sixth inning. During the at-bat, Beltran lined a ball down the third base line which kicked up a cloud of chalk as it landed. In an instant the air came out of the Citi Field balloon as the Mets faithful felt the curse of the baseball gods once again. But this time was different as umpire Adrian Johnson inexplicably ruled the ball foul and the at-bat continued with Beltran eventually grounding out to third base. Mets’ fans still had hope and after Mike Baxter made the obligatory highlight reel play in the field for every no-hitter in the seventh inning and Johann threw his 134th pitch of the day, no-hitter destiny finally sided with the home town and Santana and the Mets had their first.
But once again a game has been tainted by an umpire’s bad ruling and the calls for replay in baseball are again going up. In many respects I consider myself to be a baseball purist but that is changing. For one, I like the designated hitter. Something about watching a pitcher go to bat and most of the time looking as foolish as I would facing major league pitching. Besides, who cares what a pitcher does at the plate since it doesn’t count in fantasy. For the second time in two years we’ve had an umpire’s bad call decide whether a game was a no-hitter or not. It was almost two years to the day prior to Santana’s effort that Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by umpire Jim Joyce. I'm now believing some form of instant replay is needed.
I readily admit that the umpires are doing their best for the game (with the exception of some of them injecting too much of themselves and their ego being bigger than the game itself). But they are still human and make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes are the story instead of the game being the story. As baseball players have gotten bigger and stronger some plays in the game have gotten quicker and it’s time the umpires get some help. There was supposed to be more instant replay this year but the umpires union wouldn’t agree to what MLB and the players agreed to. So here we are with another blown call by an umpire and the national spotlight on them.
The umpires and their union need to get off their high horse for the better of the game. The National Football League has instant replay and, while not perfect, it has succeeded in getting the call right the vast majority of the time. Many felt that it would show-up the NFL referees but that hasn’t happened. If a bad call is made and replay reverses it the referees aren’t the story for making the wrong call to begin with. The game continues with the right call made and no one second guesses the refs afterwards.
Major League umpires need to understand that first, they are not above the integrity of a properly called game and secondly, that replay will help them. It will succeed in taking the umpires out of the spotlight of a bad call unless the umpires and their leaders really want to be in that spotlight whether it be good or bad. I don’t think that’s the case with the umpires. The tears that Jim Joyce shed after blowing that call in Comerica Park tell me that. So the umpires need to put pressure on their leadership to approve the use of instant replay for their benefit.I don’t want to put an asterisk after Santana’s no hitter the same as I don’t want to put an asterisk after the Jeffrey Maier game. But it’s a shame to Mets fans that the first no-hitter in franchise history is being overshadowed by a bad umpire’s call and the call was taking so much of the spotlight away from the game itself. When replays of the ball hitting the chalk line vastly outnumber replays of Baxter's catch, that is a fundamental problem that needs to be fixed now - not tomorrow.