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right, now what? What do we wait for now that hell is chilly and a Mets pitcher has thrown a no-hitter? What void do we now need to see filled to feel more baseball-content? Man walked on the moon before the Mets won a World Series, supporting Casey Stengel's premise. But Armstrong's giant leap barely preceded Cleon's final-play catch. And that was merely NASA responding to Casey's challenge. This was different, a greater challenge in some ways. NASA fought gravity and then no gravity. Johan Santana was against history, karma, the odds, medical advice, pitch-count concerns, an iffy forecast and the best-hitting team in the National League this season.
No one said it would be easy. The Mets needed 50 seasons-plus, 8,020 games and 134 pitches from a guy who wasn't supposed to exceed 115. But now it's in the books -- Howie Rose put it there after Santana did the heavy lifting in an 8-0 win over the Cardinals. What a magnificent achievement for an extraordinary pitcher, a pro's pro and a man's man!
The Mets haven't had a day or night so uplifting since 2006. And they didn't have all that many moments of equivalent joy before that year. In case you didn't know, no-hitters are as rare as they are joyous. Of course, the extended absence of a no-hitter for a team with so pitching-rich a history made for a rich irony, greater joy and greater relief.
Anyone who's been around the Mets for a significant period is familiar with all the ancillaries to this accomplishment.
The Mets had gone deeper into their history without a no-hitter than any other team.
The seeming myriad of men -- Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Nolan Ryan among them -- who pitched no-hitters after their tours with the Mets. There were six others besides Ryan's seven, the most recent by Phil Humber.
Seaver coming so close three times with the Mets but not pitching one until after he joined the Reds.
That their runs at no-hitters were so often foiled by all-but-anonymous players. Jimmy Qualls turned Seaver's first try into the cleverly named Imperfect Game with a single one out into the ninth. Qualls has no other claim to fame, nor did Joe Wallis, another Cub who denied Seaver. Other luminaries who butted in had these surnames -- Hoover, Pellow, Tsao, Huff, Denorfia.
It was that sense of the Mets' almost-history that made the eighth-inning at-bat of pinch-hitter Shane Robinson a tad sweaty. He was just anonymous enough to deny Santana. But Robinson struck out and left the pitcher three outs from his special achievement.
So now we are left to ponder what's next. Now that the Red Sox have overcome The Curse and Santana has eliminated the remarkable double negative -- no no-no -- that developed in Queens despite the efforts of Seaver, Nolie, Doc, Coney, Koosy, Darling, Sabes, Sid, Glavine, Pedro, Gentry, et al, now the onus may shift to Wrigley Field, where the home team is without a World Series championship since '08. But the Cubs do have one. The Mets had never pitched a no-hitter.
Or is it on the Padres? Born seven years after the Mets, they are the last franchise without a no-hitter. They don't have a cycle, either.
Or on some extraordinary power hitter -- Prince Fielder? Josh Hamilton? -- to hit a fair ball beyond the walls or over the trim of this Yankee Stadium?
We're still waiting for someone to scare Johnny Vander Meer's descendents and pitch successive no-hitters. Santana is in position. But what will manager Terry Collins do if his pitcher exceeds 115 pitches again?
Whatever it may be, "time without" will be of the essence. Had the Mets' first no-hitter come in the franchise's 17th season, it clearly would have lacked the appeal of what Santana accomplished on Friday night at Citi. The Padres will have to get to their 51st season, but the Cubs have already passed into "When will it ever happen?"
Now, the Mets have passed that point with a moment made more special by the identity of the conquering hero. Their void was filled by a pitcher of resumé, as it should have been. We don't want next year's Kevin Maas hitting one out of the Stadium any more than it would have been appropriate for Shawn Estes, Pete Schourek or Mr. Koo to fill the vacancy in Flushing.
The right man did it. OK, so Carlos Beltran's ball was fair. That just makes this game the flip side of the Armando Galarraga-Jim Joyce game. That became a feel-good episode. This one feels good, too.