BLAME BELTRAN, OR: A TALE OF THE JOHAN SANTANA NO-HITTER.
It’s hard to know where to begin.
As most of you know, I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up with all of this. As a result, I don’t have a switch in my brain that automatically goes on at a certain point in a game, I don’t think about it after the first out like TBF does, I’ve had to train myself to watch for it. Even then, tonight, it was the last thing I would have expected. I didn’t get out of work until 6:15, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in time for first pitch. TBF has been under the weather and there was a brief discussion about whether or not he was healthy enough to go to the game. We don’t have a ticket plan this year and picked this specific game because we wanted to see Beltran’s return to New York. I showed up a little after 7 with no camera and no scorebook and was happy to have the distraction. I was happy to applaud Beltran, I was happy to watch Johan, I was happy to boo Yadier Molina (and seriously, people, the fact that you booed Beltran harder than Yadier Molina — REALLY?). This was only my second game of the season.
I was happy to be at the ballpark again, that familiar respite of the Friday ballgame, the separation between the week and the weekend. It was just going to be a game, you know? It was just going to be a ballgame.
I said something about how my uninspired prediction was that this would be a quick, low-scoring game that we would win if it were not for Santana’s lack of run support and the Horror That Shall Not Speak Its Name (aka the bullpen). Johan pitched well. The Mets hit baseballs. Johan walked too many people but it was still 8:22 and he was at 49 pitches and there were innings that were gems. It started to rain, and we moved up a couple of rows. We were in the “Excelsior Level,” the middle level that reminds us of our old Shea mezzanine seats. We had the view off of third base, just like we used to at Shea.
It was in the fifth or sixth inning when my internal engine light went on and I thought, wait, have they– and there was that line of 0s on the scoreboard. Half an inning later I looked at Twitter and people were starting to murmur. It was the sixth inning when I said to TBF, “People are talking about things they aren’t supposed to be talking about,” and his reaction was, “Well, they had better stop.” And even then I did not think, This is going to happen tonight . I think that it will probably happen some day and if we are lucky we might be there.
But tonight? It was just a Friday night in June.
At the bottom of the 6th, I think, the rain stopped and TBF insisted that we move back down to the front row. It wasn’t crowded, there was plenty of room, but we did go to the trouble of picking the front row for a reason, might as well actually sit in them. When we got there, the guys who had been in the row all night leaned over and said, “You know what’s happening, right?” There was much eye-rolling as TBF pointed at his scorecard.
They meant well; everyone meant well. This was the closest Citi Field has come to feeling like Shea, with people laughing and joking and talking to each other, not just little random bubbles of people all disconnected from each other. It felt good; it felt like home.
There was some muttering about neck tattoos and horrible people when Yadier Molina came to the plate, just like we always do when Yadier Molina comes to the plate. (No. We do not forgive, we do not forget.) And then that ball went out, and I leapt out of my seat screaming NO NO NO NO SHIT DAMMIT GET IT PLEASE GOD NO PLEASE and then Mike Baxter performed the act that canonized him as well as ensured he will never pay for a drink anywhere in New York ever again. I am alternately horrified as Ray Ramirez comes running out at full tilt but also selfishly comforted that the umpire signaled the out.
LET’S GO BAXTER , chanted the guys one section over. LET’S GO BAXTER , came out of our section next. LET’S GO BAXTER , I could see it in the outfield and on the field level and out in the Pepsi Porch. We chanted as he was lying there, we chanted as he got up, we chanted as he carefully made his way back to the dugout.
I started getting emotional. I never considered that being at a no-hitter would make me so emotional. I felt guilty because I haven’t been waiting for this my whole life. And I felt guilty for thinking that it might happen, that if I thought about it too hard I might jinx it. I think that I will buy a hat if — WAIT NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
The eighth inning. It was the eighth inning, and we all now are believing. We are believing. We are creeping closer to our hearts opening up that this might be actually possible, this could happen, it isn’t just going to fall apart and shatter like every other moment that the Mets have come close to something tremendous in the past few years. But there is belief, it is everywhere. It is cautious and it is tentative but it is belief, and not defeat, it is not resignation, it is a step forward towards embracing the possible.
We boo Terry Collins the minute he walks up the dugout steps. We cheer as soon as he jogs back from the pitchers mound.
And then Carlos Beltran comes to the plate.
I do not want to believe in jinxes or think about what would happen if Carlos Beltran did smash a ball out towards the bullpens and I think I probably held my breath throughout the entire at-bat. Because despite the lovely meditation on belief above, we are New Yorkers and we are cynical fucks and given that the Mets have a habit of playing straight along with every narrative that is assigned to them, I could see it happening. I think we all could have seen it happen.
But it didn’t happen. He lined out, it was the last out — it was the last out.
The Mets are up. Is Johan coming out – Johan is coming out. Johan has a helmet on. There is movement in the bullpen but it could be someone stretching their legs. We growl at them to sit down. There is muttering about how he is not going to swing so just throw it down the middle, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to walk the guy who is very definitely not going to swing at anything you throw him, et cetera. Mostly we just want to put Johan into a protective field so nothing can happen to him between home plate and back to the dugout and then back to the pitcher’s mound.
The 9th inning, and I do not know how I am breathing. I am trying to keep the tears from forming around the edges of my eye. TBF hands me the camera and says, “Here, YOU do it,” and I am taking pictures of Mr. Met hanging out in the crowd right below us. I am taking pictures of the ballpark. I know I will never forget it but I am taking pictures of it all anyway. Everyone has a phone out, a camera, everyone is standing up, no one anywhere in the ballpark is sitting down except maybe Gary, Keith and Ron.
One. Matt Holliday hits a ball and I panic and it is caught.
Two. Allen Craig hits a ball and it is caught by Nieuwenhuis.
It is happening. It is actually going to happen. We are here. It is going to happen. One more out. Oh my god. One more out.
And then David Freese strikes out swinging and everything explodes and simultaneously freezes and I realize I have a camera and I want to hug TBF and high-five everyone around me but I have a camera and there is celebrating and screaming and music and cheering and camera crews and wait why is security in the huddle, oh wait, it’s an idiot in a Gary Carter jersey, I finally finish taking pictures and grab TBF and hug him hard, hug him harder. Oh my god. A no hitter. The Mets finally had a no-hitter and we were there to see it.
It is improbable that we would be here tonight. We did not buy a ticket plan this year. This was only my second game of the season. We are going to Europe, I am writing a book about Bruce Springsteen, we are doing other things right now. We came tonight because we wanted to see Carlos Beltran’s return. It makes no sense. I always worried that TBF would see a no hitter on a night he went to a game without me. He always worried that we would see one by another team before we’d see one from the Mets. He worried that it would happen on the road. He worried that it would happen while we were sitting at home in Brooklyn on an off night.
There was one. Tonight. We were there. This is crazy. This is beyond ‘you can’t predict baseball’. This is insane. This is gloriously, deliciously insane.
Kevin Burkhardt comes out for the hero interview with Johan, and Justin Turner gets him with the whipped cream pie. We cheer our hero some more, for as long as he stands on that field, and then he leaves.
We take more photos and we help people take photos and people take photos of us, and security miraculously does not act like total dicks and try to move people along. I head into the nearest store and buy a 50th Anniversary hat; I remind TBF to buy a program. I finally make it to the ladies room (I still have two bottles of water I didn’t drink because after the 6th inning I was not going anywhere).
We are walking out of the ballpark as the text messages and tweets and calls start to flood in. Fans from every team, who live everywhere in the country (and the world) are sending congratulatory notes. People are singing and chanting and chattering, singing “Johan, Johan, Johan” as we walked down the stairs, as ebullience carried us to the subway. The last time we saw anything like this was in 2006.
All the way home it continued, to the Court Square stop, down the stairs, on the G train platform, on the G, getting off at our stop and walking through the station. I start to whistle “Meet the Mets” because TBF’s voice is gone at this point and he can’t sing. I give up and start singing, and as we turn to go upstairs and leave the station, I hear a woman behind me pick up the refrain as she walks the other way.
It is about the improbable, the unexpected, the unanticipated, the random, the wonderful, the enormous, about serendipity and luck. It is about baseball, and hope, and more hope.
It is wonderful. I am still smiling the same smile I had when I walked out of the ballpark, four hours later.
— Mets WFAN (@MetsWFAN) June 2, 2012