8,020*

It took over 50 seasons and more than 8,000 games (8,020, to be precise), but the New York Mets now have done something they had never done before. Johan Santana, two months into his comeback from shoulder surgery, threw 134 pitches to do it, far more than he has ever thrown in his career. He issued five walks along the way, but that isn’t the number that really counts. What counts is zero, as Santana threw a no-hitter for the Mets against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Except he really didn’t.

With the Mets, nothing is ever quite run-of-the-mill. It is a franchise defined by extremes. The team has experienced 120-loss awfulness and 108-win greatness; miraculous titles, and crushing collapses; jaw-dropping victories on opponents’ terrible plays, and their own jaw-dropping plays that presaged terrible defeats.

It’s probably fitting that this tale hinges on Carlos Beltran, the ex-Met in his first game back in Flushing since he was traded late in 2011. He led off the top of the sixth, right at the inflection point where you can start legitimately speculating about a no-hitter. He shot a 1-0 pitch just over the bag at third, landing it barely on the line, leaving a half-moon imprint in the chalk.

And third-base umpire Adrian Johnson called it foul.

Step back in time. Two years ago today, I got to see the last two innings of Armando Galarraga‘s masterpiece, watched him dominating batters with remarkable economy. And then I saw that play. The scream I loosed when Jim Joyce signaled “safe” is still echoing somewhere deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

That was a perfect game. The record book says it was not, but in my heart it was. That is my gift to Galarraga—and to Joyce. We recall how memorably Joyce lamented after the game that he had taken something special from Galarraga. Not from me, he hasn’t. (I could roll into a rant on instant replay here, but I won’t.)

And now we’re in the Mirror Universe, where Spock has a goatee, and where I, too, get to be the villain.

Because I have to be consistent, don’t I? If I bend the official records of MLB to acknowledge and restore what Galarraga lost to an umpire’s missed call, don’t I have to deny Johan Santana the no-hitter that was the gift of an umpire’s missed call?

Mind you, this wasn’t a scorer’s judgment call, hit or error, an act of subjective judgment we accept as part of the game. This wasn’t even a bang-bang play at first, gauging two objects in motion. This was a classic boundary play, fair or foul, and one that left concrete evidence on the field itself.

(Really, I am saving the rant for later. Several years later, if you’re lucky.)

Nobody is going to lament this missed call the way they did that blown call. Not even the Cardinals, not with an 8-0 whitewashing on the board. But even as my heart leaped and swelled as Santana struck out David Freese to seal the deal, I felt the undercurrent of sadness, disappointment that I couldn’t fully celebrate. I know that somewhere in the compartment of my soul that’s reserved for baseball, there will always be that asterisk. Because I have to be consistent, don’t I?

For once, why couldn’t the Mets have found a less amazin’ way to be Amazin’?

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Comments

  1. plasmaj said...

    I think you should carefully review videos of all past no-hitters to see how many should also have an asterisk. This one gets more attention due to the much better video replays now available as well as the internet

  2. Mark Himmelstein said...

    Yeah gotta agree with what plasmaj said, but also wanted to add, compared to the Galarraga play, this one was probably much more difficult to make in real time. This one really was fractions of an inch wrong. It was barely even noticeable in a full speed watch that any chalk got kicked up, because there was lots of dirt in there too. The Galarraga play was so blatantly wrong that it was near unforgivable. At least 90% of people watching that play in real time new it was wrong. This one was probably much more of an even split. Of course, in this play, what we did have was a lingering piece of evidence on the field that it was wrong that lasted the rest of the night—the mark the ball left on the line. But umpires make their calls in real time, always have, and have probably done so incorrectly many times before in no hitters or near no hitters, so if we’re going to put an asterisk next to this one, its small, and probably deserves an asterisk of its own.

  3. Mark Himmelstein said...

    I also wanted to add, if somehow that high pitch count comes back to haunt Johan and the Mets, I suspect the asterisk is going to suddenly feel much larger in retrospect. If it doesn’t, the Mets simply handle Johan with kiddie gloves for a few starts and he finishes out the season strong, it will likely be just something Mets fans and baseball historians chuckle about over their $10 bud lights.

  4. Mets Fans said...

    Mark,there are some things in baseball worth the physical risk and some that are not. Mike Baxter nearly ran through a wall for Johan and the Mets last night and I suspect he’d do it again. No matter what from here on out, the risk was worth it. It’s probably kind of difficult for fans of most other teams to understand how much this meant to us or how much we appreciate it because no other team has gone nearly this long without a no-hitter. It probably means the same to Johan and his teammates. Not to mention what he might have just done to merchandise and ticket sales.

  5. Erik Christensen said...

    This makes up for the bad call by the official scorer in 1984 when Ray Knight bobbled an easy ground ball and one of the slowest players in the game at the time got an infield single in Dwight Gooden’s 1 hitter.

  6. Erik Christensen said...

    why not bitch about the walk Milt Pappas gave up with 2 outs in the 9th on a 3-2 pitch in his no hitter?

    Or some of the bad calls that cost teams a championship (Game 6 in the 1985 World Series comes to mind)

    Or do you only bitch about bad calls made recently?

  7. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Erik:  Griping about current events is done under the THT Live heading.  Griping about historical events goes under the main banner. (At this point, I feel like I should hold up a sign reading “Joke”.)

    I wrote my thoughts about an important game that was played yesterday, and how it tied in with another game in the still recent past (and with the instant replay controversy, which I’m still not going to rant about yet).  Maybe I should be explaining or defending my words, but I think I will just let them stand.

    I will say this:  if you don’t appreciate my personal take on controversial baseball matters, oh boy, just wait until Wendesday!

  8. Kyle said...

    The Beltran play happened in the 6th inning, the Galaragga play was literally going to end the game and seal perfection. Santana still had to earn a lot of that no-hitter after the foul call. I think this makes it hard to use them as 1-1 examples that you need to be consistent over.

    Beltran’s play was a foul ball and kept him at bat. Santana still had to get him out after that foul call. If the Galaragga call had gone the correct way the batter would have been out. I think that this also makes it hard to use them as 1-1 examples that you need to be consistent over.

    Beltran’s play was a judgment call by an umpire on a razor thin line. Was it technically wrong? Yes. But isn’t this the kind of situation where (if we love baseball) we have to all agree that “sometimes these razor thin calls go the wrong way, but we are gonna have faith that it all evens out in the long run and not be this nitpicky?” Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the Galaragga play was not a razor thin margin. It was slapping the umpire in the face and somewhere in his head a neuron took a left when it should have took a right and he called it safe.

    The two situations are very different and so I do not think you need to worry about being consistent with yours and others gift-giving with regard to merit based honorary baseball achievements and milestones.

    The consistency that I would be worried about is maintaining such a hard nosed approach to certain calls by the umpire. For instance, did the umpire miss a lot of balls and strike calls by margins greater than this foul ball call was missed? How did each of those missed calls affect the rest of the game? What would have really happened in a perfect world with perfect umpires? Well, I don’t think you get to ask that question. And this is the difference: When you want to take away Johan’s no-no because of a missed foul ball call you are asking for a perfect world of umpires. That is an unreasonable request. However, when you want to give Galaragga the perfect game you are not asking for a world of perfect umpires, you are asking for a world where umpires do not completely and utterly miss an obvious call that would have directly led to a perfect game.

    I think that this is a reasonable request.

  9. Paul G. said...

    I would say that this commentary has deep philosophical underpinnings that are greater – dare I say it – than the baseball game itself.

    (This is going to go on for a while and I had to split it into two parts, so feel free to skip to the next-next comment.  I was in one of those moods.  You have been warned.)

    My reaction to the game was different than Shane’s (and probably most of the commenters) in the fact that I was not watching the game.  (I will apply the wet noodle as appropriate.)  When I heard that Santana had pitched a no-hitter through secondhand information, I was excited.  I knew this was the albatross around the Mets neck ever since they traded Nolan Ryan (for nothing), traded Tom Seaver (for nothing), watched Dwight Gooden and David Cone leave and throw their no-hitter/perfect game, and suffered the most recent haunting of otherwise nondescript Philip Humber (who, of course, was traded for Santana).  Finally, the Mets, the team of any number of quality pitchers but shackled to this curse of the “no no-no,” had finally gotten the monkey off their backs!  (Yes, there is a monkey and an albatross.  It’s a timeshare, OK?)

    My second reaction was to hope and pray there were no irregularities.  This being the Mets, natch, that was too much to hope.  Good grief, did there have to be a clear sign that the call had been botched?  Couldn’t be one of those “I watched it twenty times and I’m still not sure” situations?  Couldn’t be some judgment call with a wider probability of error, like balls and strikes, where mistakes are so prevalent and can only be mitigated so much even by the best of efforts?  It had to be a perfect chalk outline of the ball, as if this was some crime scene waiting for a witticism from the veteran homicide detective?  Ugh.

    Yeah, so I’m a perfectionist.  It is my cross to bear.  It does remove some of the gloss off the accomplishment.  Yes, it is technically a no-hitter and it feels good, but it also feels like there is something missing, almost as if the cost was too high.  I’m pretty sure chalk costs like five cents per ball imprint or something like that, but let me enjoy my simile for a moment.

  10. Paul G. said...

    There.

    So what to make of this?  Well, first of all, it was Santana’s job on this particular night to get 27 outs without a hit as determined by the umpires.  He did that.  So it is a no-hitter.  It is not Santana’s job to umpire the game and it is not remotely his fault that the man in blue, well, blew it.  It happens.  Task accomplished, if at least technically.

    On the other end, we do know that umpires are not infallible.  Joyce’s call could have been made by just about anyone: five-year-old children, people who have never seen a baseball game before, the blind.  We all know the call made was wrong including Joyce.  So by the spirit of the law Galarraga pitched a perfect game.  By the letter of the law he did not.  The law can be an ass.  It stinks.  Though technically, I think that means “donkey” but they don’t smell all that good either so just stick with me here.

    Still, I want the perfection.  I tend to agree with Shane.  In a perfect world, Galarraga threw a perfect game, Joyce is a footnote on the box score, and the Mets will have yet another one-hitter in the sob story that is the Ryan-Seaver-Gooden-Cone-Humber Quintet for the color commentator to lament the next time a seeing-eye ball grounder or broken bat blooper breaks up the latest effort for the most recent unsuccessful Metropolitan.

    Then again, baseball is like life.  Life is not perfect.  Humber was the beneficiary of a very generous check swing call to cement his achievement.  (Is it just me or have the check swing strikes become more common since then?)  Don Drysdale’s scoreless inning streak was saved from obscurity by Harry Wendelstedt’s call to nullify a hit by pitch, apparently because the “meek” Don was insufficiently intimidating so he needed that little extra edge of hitting batters for free, or something.  Bob Gibson only holds the single season ERA record because of a “farce” of a last game in 1913 which saw the Big Train play center field, come to the mound to lob (literally) a single and a double, and then surrender a couple of earned runs on a triple given up by a backup catcher.  The official scorer ignored those two runs as he knew it was all a joke; later statisticians overrode him.  Baseball, like life, is anything but perfect.  Frankly, it is a little crazy.

    As I wind to a close here, what am I to make of this?  I profess the following.  Galarraga pitched a perfect game.  Santana threw the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets; I am happy for both Johan and the team, though I may occasionally and playfully rib the random Mets fan with a chalk (or whatever convenient particulates) cloud.  The way I see it both pitchers did exactly what was asked of them for the honor and the mistakes were out of their control.  It may not be the most logically consistent thought pattern, I suppose, but all in all it seems like the best conclusion to an imperfect world.

    And in the end, I can live with that.

  11. Josh S said...

    Shouldn’t I? Don’t I? Could I? If the question is, “should I give up journalism?” then the answer is a resounding “YES.” the asterisk argument is a tired one. The game is what it is and umpires are part of that. Instant replay may change the rules but it won’t change the game. Get over it and let Johan and Meta fans have their moment.

  12. Kyle said...

    Shane: that distinction is not lost, but there is a major difference that is not being talked about. Both the Larsen and the Galaraga play were with two outs in the 8th. This Santana call that we are talking about happened in the 6th. Santana was very far from being out of the woods and had a lot more batters to face. This makes the “he really didnt get a no-hitter” argument pretty petty and worthless in my opinion. Once you start requiring this level of perfection from baseball, or any sport, you are being unreasonable. You have to accept this as part of the game. Santana has a no-hitter, deal with it. At some point you have to say, much like the players, “I’m not gonna argue with the umpire anymore.”

    It’s just too bad that we as commentators have no authority to kick you into the clubhouse and force you to whine like a little kid who got called out on a borderline call that he should have been swinging at anyway…

  13. Mike S. said...

    Don Larsen’s last pitch in the ‘56 perfect game, a called third strike, is widely agreed to have been outside the strike zone.
    Guess that’s got an asterisk now, too.  I’m sure Yankee fans will be glad to hear that Larsen’s feat has been annulled.

  14. Obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    First off, I agree with Shane that instant replay should be implemented.

    That said, If I could have liked Kyles response, I would have.  He changed my view of Johan’s nono, he still had to do a lot to reach the no hitter.  I was open to the asterisk, at least mentally.

    Still, if one takes that stance, then that 13 inning nohitter that failed in the 14th should be considered a no hitter too, Pittsburgh, dang my memory has been bad since taking a fall.  His only “failing” was that his team could not score a run. 

    And how about the perfect no hitter a pitcher did after Babe Ruth walked the first batter and got thrown out?  That pitcher got all 27 outs, I think he picked off the runner.

  15. Kyle said...

    Or Pedro’s nine perfect innings v. Tampa….before losing it in extras.

    We could do this ad infinitum.

  16. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Mike S.:  I’ve noted that before … but watch the final pitch again, and watch Dale Mitchell’s check swing.  Could Babe Pinelli have been ruling that he went around?

    Also, one distinction I think is getting lost (there are a couple) is between a call that did end a bid and a call that could have.  Joyce ended Galarraga’s bid; Adrian Johnson’s call, had it gone the way the video shows, would have broken up Santana’s no-no.  But if Pinelli calls ball two?  It’s still a 2-2 count on Mitchell, and Larsen is still odds-on to get his man and complete the perfecto.

  17. Paul G. said...

    To make my last comment on the subject, I find it interesting that many of the comments here confirm the phenomenon that Shane is describing.  Baltimore fans are still sore at Jeffrey Maier.  Cardinals fans still use “Don Denkinger” as a four-letter word.  (Yes, it is more than four letters, but not after Cardinal fans get through with it.)  This is not the first time I have read about Don Larsen’s last strike being a “gift.”  For that matter, it was not by accident that ESPN replayed that line drive (and the ensuing argument) over and over again on SportsCenter

    As fans we put “asterisks” next to various pieces of baseball history all the time, simply varying in focus and degree, ranging from genuine outrage to historical flavoring.  It is a perfectly normal reaction.  It’s part of the game just as much as the proverbial inches, the snap judgment calls, and *sigh* Rafael Palmiero Viagra commercials. 

    I suspect as time goes on the boundary call will fade into the background, the long awaited no-hitter overshadowing it more and more, as it should.  Still, don’t be surprised that at the next Mets no-hitter, be it today or another 8,000 games in the future, that someone – probably a Mets announcer – mentions the call.  It’s only natural.

  18. Erik Christensen said...

    Why stop with the asterisk on no-hitters?

    What about the Jeffrey Maier game in the 96 playoffs? Do the Yankees win that game, series, and world series without that blown call?

    Put an asterisk on it!

  19. Greg Simons said...

    I like Paul G.‘s take most of all.

    The game has its official record books and official rule books, and instant replay is applied according to the current rules.

    How we personally choose to view the game is solely up to the individual.  Some people still consider Hank Aaron the all-time home-run king.  Others are appalled that Barry Bonds is not given his due credit for hitting 762 long balls.

    It’s a game, and we can all enjoy it – and enjoy to argue about it – as we see fit.  Yes, stating one’s opinions can rub some the wrong way, but that doesn’t mean the opinions aren’t valid, because there’s a degree of subjectivity here that can and will never be erased.

    Was Johan’s accomplishment a no-hitter?  The record book say yes.  Will some people continue to bring up Beltran’s chalkline shot?  Sure.  These debates can make the game even more fun.

    The only issue I have is when people take these innocent debates to an unreasonable level.  In a comment section like this, that can be name-calling.  In the bleachers or a parking lot, that can be verbal or physical abuse.

    It’s a game.  We can enjoy it, we can debate it, we can root for our team and against the opponent.  As long as it’s civil, I’m happy to partake.

    For the record, I’m a Cardinals fan, and the no-hitter doesn’t bother me much at all.  I was disappointed St. Louis lost the game, because above all else, I’m always rooting for my team to win.

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