I usually go to games by myself, and that’s a good thing. I actually prefer it that way. But for some reason, I invited a bunch of people to join me at this one. My girlfriend couldn’t make it because she had to work. My friend Andrew couldn’t make it because he was in Los Angeles. My friend Danny was gonna be at a Radiohead concert in New Jersey. My friend Laurie had a date. My friend Leon already had plans to attend Monday’s game. My mom had the evening free but just didn’t feel like going. And so on. Not one person that I invited took me up on it, so I’d like to say right now to all them: HA HA HA.
Anyway, when I first ran inside the stadium and reached the left field seats, I noticed that there was a ball sitting down below on one of those metallic drink ledges on the party deck. There weren’t any fans in that section yet, so I convinced an employee to toss it up to me. You can see him in the following photo, standing on the right in the dark shirt:
Five minutes later, Dillon Gee threw me my 2nd ball of the day. It had a little clump of warning track dirt on the stitches. Check it out:
That was it for the Mets’ portion of batting practice. There were exactly zero home runs that reached the left field seats, but whatever, let’s not dwell on negatives.
When the Cardinals came out and finished throwing, Jason Motte tossed me my 3rd ball of the day. I didn’t catch it on the fly, though. I was in the third row, and he chucked it 10 feet over my head, so I had to scamper after it.
Forty-five minutes earlier, when I’d been waiting for the gates to open, a random guy had walked up to me and told me that he likes my blog.
“Sorry,” he said, “is that weird?”
“Not at all,” I told him. “I hear that from people quite a bit. Thanks so much.”
The guy then introduced himself. His name is Craig, he lives in Idaho, and he’d recently stumbled upon my blog after doing a search for rubber band balls. (Have you ever seen my rubber band ball? It’s quite large.) But anyway, fast-forward to the Cardinals’ portion of BP. Just after I got the ball from Motte, Craig caught up with me and said he’d just snagged the very first ball of his life . . . and then he asked if I’d be willing to sign it. The answer, of course, was yes. Here he is with it:
In the photo above, the number under my signature reflected my up-to-the-minute lifetime ball total. Also, as you can see by what else I wrote on the ball, this was Craig’s (33rd) birthday.
Soon after, I had a bit of trouble on a couple of home runs that pretty much came right to me. Another fan bumped my glove on the first one, and I flat-out booted the other. I don’t know what the hell happened. I think it was just a lack of concentration. At the time, I was beyond pissed and had a bitch of a time putting it out of my mind. During the next group of hitters, I kind of made up for it by making a nice catch on a home run in the middle of a cluster of fans. I handed that ball to the nearest kid.
Look how crowded it was toward the end of BP:
There was almost no chance to catch anything else at that point, so I made my way to the 3rd base dugout. When the Cardinals wrapped up BP and started clearing the field, I noticed that hitting coach Mark McGwire was holding three baseballs in his left hand. He had a pen in his right hand, and as he walked off the field, he was signing them! I hurried down to the front row, and as he got closer and looked up, I shouted his name and waved my arms like crazy. He spotted me immediately and tossed one of them to me. Sweet!
Before I photographed the ball, I took a pic of him signing more autographs at the dugout:
Then I got a shot of the ball that he had just thrown to me:
How awesome is that?! Yeah, the ball has a faint “practice” stamp on the sweet spot, but who cares? I’m not planning to sell it. I was just thrilled to have gotten a ball *and* a Mark McGwire autograph in the process. This is only the second time that I’ve ever snagged a pre-autographed ball; the first one came from Omar Quintanilla (then on the Rockies, now with the Mets) on 10/1/05 at Shea Stadium. If you want to see a closeup of the McGwire ball, click here, and if you want to see the one that Quintanilla signed, click here.
Less than a minute after I got the ball from McGwire, I got another from this guy:
At the time, I had no idea who it was, but after I got home and poked around Google for a few minutes, I discovered his identity. His name is Dennis Schutzenhofer, and he’s the team’s batting practice pitcher. Here’s an article about him from 2010.
I gave away another ball (and got a six-inch tuna sandwich from Subway) on the way to my seat for the game. This was my view:
Both starting pitchers — Johan Santana for the Mets and Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals — were dominant in the early innings. In the middle of the 4th, I noticed that neither team had a hit:
I remember thinking that if someone ended up pitching a no-hitter, it would be cool to have a photo of the scoreboard early in the game.
Kirk Niewenhuis led off the bottom of the 4th with a single, and David Wright followed with a double. Wright was the only right-handed hitter in the Mets lineup, so once his turn at bat was done, I moved here for an inning:
I just had to get up and stretch my legs. Even during a potential no-hitter, I can’t bear to sit and watch if I know there’s no chance of catching a ball. (Yes, I have issues.) The Mets scored two runs in the 4th, and Santana worked another hitless inning in the 5th. That’s when things really started getting exciting — the game was now more than halfway done — and I was back in my seat in the top of the 6th. Here’s what the scoreboard looked like:
In the photo above, did you notice that there was already one out? Well, that out was highly controversial. Carlos Beltran (playing his first game in New York since getting traded from the Mets last year) led off the 6th and smoked a line drive down the left field line. Third-base umpire Adrian Johnson called it foul, and I remember thinking, “Wow, that looked pretty damn close to being fair. I wonder if the ump has the no-hitter on his mind.” Slow-motion replays indicated that the ball was barely fair, but the call stood and Beltran grounded out on the next pitch. Matt Holliday then struck out and Allen Craig popped out to first.
In the bottom of the 6th, Lucas Duda hit a three-run homer to extend the Mets’ lead to 5-0.
David Freese led off the 7th inning with a harmless pop-up to first base. Everyone was totally hyped up by that point, so when Yadier Molina followed with a *deep* line drive to straight-away left, the entire stadium had a collective panic attack. When Molina first made contact, I thought that the ball might reach the party deck for a home run, but at the very least, I was SURE that the no-hitter was done. Mets left fielder Mike Baxter raced back for the ball, and just as he reached up for it, he disappeared from view. Click here to watch the highlight on MLB.com. Baxter somehow made the catch and crashed into the left field wall. When he didn’t get up, I knew that he was hurt, but this was all I could see from the front row . . .
. . . and after a minute or two, the training staff walked him off the field:
It was truly amazing.
Santana then got Mike Adams to ground out to first base to end the top of the 7th inning. That’s when I got up to get food. (I’d eaten a protein bar in the middle innings, but I was still starving.) While deciding what to get at the nearest concession stand, I spotted a ticket sitting on the ground. I didn’t have a regular/box-office ticket for this game. I had one of the “print-at-home” variety, so finding a real one was huge. I quickly snatched it in case Santana ended up making history.
Here’s a photo of the scoreboard in the bottom of the 7th:
The Mets scored three runs in the inning to put the game completely out of reach.
By the time the 8th inning got underway, Santana had already thrown 107 pitches. As long as the no-no was intact, I didn’t think there was any chance that he’d get taken out of the game, but figured that his pitch count would still end up being an issue.
Tyler Greene led off the 8th with a first-pitch fly-out to left field. Shane Robinson was then announced as a pinch hitter, and apparently this was too big of a challenge for the Mets’ scoreboard operators. Check it out:
The 1-1 pitch to Robinson brought more controversy. Replays indicated that the ball barely grazed his hand, but home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called it a foul ball. Robinson ended up striking out, and Rafael Furcal drew a two-out walk, which prompted a needless/stupid visit to the mound by Mets manager Terry Collins. (He wanted to give Santana a breather?! Please. Just stay in the dugout and let the man pitch. Collins got booed mercilessly, and rightly so.) Beltran then hit a soft line drive up the middle, which 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy ran down and caught on the fly.
THREE OUTS TO GO!!!
Johan Santana’s pitch count was up to 122:
That’s a lot for an “old” pitcher who’s had several arm surgeries, but whatever. The Mets’ FIRST no-hitter was on the line, so it was obvious that he was gonna come back out for the 9th. Sure enough, he took his turn at bat in the bottom of the 8th, and the crowd went nuts:
Everyone was so pumped up.
I don’t know if it’s possible to give someone a standing ovation if the crowd is already standing, but that’s kind of what happened when Santana took a 3-2 pitch for a called strike. No one cared. Everyone loved him. We all just wanted him to get back to the dugout and rest before coming back out for his attempt to make history.
This was my view in the top of the 9th inning:
I thought about moving closer to home plate, but decided to stay put. It wasn’t because of any no-hitter-related superstition. It’s just that . . . whatever happened, I wanted to experience it from my familiar spot in the outfield.
Matt Holliday led off with a shallow fly ball to center field, and for a moment, I thought it was going to drop in for a hit. Mets center fielder Andres Torres, however, ran it down and caught it for the first out.
Here’s a look at the crowd and scoreboard when Allen Craig came up next:
I was so nervous at that point. The Mets had played 8,019 games without pitching a no-hitter. The thought of actually BEING THERE for the first one was hard to comprehend. Craig followed with a fly ball to left field, which was caught by Kirk Niewenhuis.
In the photo above, did you notice the Yankee fan high-fiving the Mets fan? It was classic. Everyone was going nuts and hoping that nothing would go wrong.
Santana then fell behind David Freese 3-0, and I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Was Freese gonna swing on 3-0? No. Strike one. But now he could sit on a 3-1 pitch and damn, it made me nervous to think about what he might do with it. Santana threw the ball and . . . Freese fouled it off! Three balls, two strikes. Oh. My. God. The next pitch was a change-up that started knee-high and dropped out of the strike zone. Freese swung over it, and for a moment, I wasn’t even sure what had happened. It was nearly in the dirt. Did it bounce? Did Mets catcher Josh Thole have to throw the ball down to first base? Did Freese get a piece of it? Maybe he . . . no, maybe NOTHING. I saw the Mets starting to celebrate, and I saw the crowd going NUTS, and I realized that Santana had done it! The no-hitter was complete!
One of the first things I noticed was that security had surrounded a fan who ran onto the field . . .
. . . but that didn’t ruin the moment. If anything, it made it better because it showed just how crazy everyone was.
Here’s a photo that I took moments later:
As you can see, it shows the Cardinals relievers walking across the field as the Mets celebrated near the pitcher’s mound. It also shows all the fans photographing something in center field. What was everyone staring at? Have a look for yourself:
Brilliant! The Mets’ scoreboard operators redeemed themselves.
I was so happy at that point, and since I was there alone, I pointed the camera at myself and took a couple photos:
I wasn’t acting or posing. I was jumping and screaming and just freaking out, for lack of a better term. This wasn’t the first no-hitter that I’d ever seen. I was at Yankee Stadium on May 14, 1996 when Dwight Gooden pitched one for the Yankees, but this one felt much more special for a number of reasons. A no-hitter for the Yankees is like a dollar for Bill Gates; the Mets, on the other hand, haven’t accomplished nearly as many incredible feats, so it was amazing to be there for such a huge one.
I took a photo of the four balls that I’d kept . . .
. . . and made my way into foul territory to get a better photo of the scoreboard:
No one wanted to leave. There was a party-like atmosphere at Citi Field like I’d never experienced before. As I walked through the semi-empty seats, I saw a bunch of familiar faces — vendors, ushers, and fans. Just about everyone who knew me said the same thing, “I was hoping you were here.”
Johan Santana’s no-hitter was an Event (with a capital E) that brought people together. I don’t know how else to describe it. But I’ll try. First, though, I have to share one more photo, which I took just before leaving the stadium:
Riding the No. 7 train back to Manhattan was an Event unto itself. EVERYONE was talking to EVERYONE. People were sharing stories of other no-hitters that they’d seen and other near misses that had broken their hearts. Even after I got off the train, the good vibes were palpable. As I walked back to my apartment on the Upper West Side, I passed a young couple (heading toward me from the right) wearing Mets caps. I tipped my cap to them, and they asked, “Did you see the game?”
“I was THERE!” I said.
“We were too!” they replied, and I gave them a fist-pump. It was THAT kind of night, and the city is still buzzing. I no longer consider myself a Mets fan, but as a diehard baseball fan and a native New Yorker, I’m *so* glad I was there.
• 6 balls at this game
• 167 balls in 22 games this season = 7.59 balls per game.
• 814 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 339 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 2 no-hitters witnessed in person
• 5,986 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more about my fundraiser, and click here to see the prizes that I’ll be giving away to donors.)
• 32 donors
• $1.83 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $10.98 raised at this game
• $305.61 raised this season
• $19,462.61 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009