5 best pitching performances in Mets history

January 18th, 2021

NEW YORK -- There is nothing quite like an electric pitching performance. Whether it’s a perfect game, a no-hitter, a high strikeout total or even just some other, more general form of dominance, strong pitching can bind players and crowds together in a way that other baseball feats cannot.

Having employed several of the greatest pitchers of all time, the Mets have enjoyed more than their share of such performances. Below is an attempt at the admittedly difficult exercise of narrowing that list down to a handful.

1. Tom Seaver, July 9, 1969 vs. Cubs
9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K

Statistically, the argument for this game as the top individual performance in Mets history is tenuous. Seaver didn’t compile the most strikeouts, the highest Game Score, the fewest hits or the most innings pitched in a game. And yet anecdotally, this remains atop the list of Mets all-time feats more than five decades after it occurred.

The “Imperfect Game,” as Seaver himself dubbed it, began with five strikeouts of the first six batters. It continued with 25 consecutive outs, until Jim Qualls looped a one-out single into left field to break up what would have been the first perfect game in franchise history. After giving up Qualls’ hit, Seaver stood for a moment with his hands on his hips, taking in a standing ovation from the Shea Stadium crowd before retiring the final two batters of the game. It would be nine years before Seaver threw his first and only no-hitter, doing so for the Reds against the Astros; he never completed a perfect game in his Hall of Fame career.

2. Johan Santana, June 1, 2012 vs. Cardinals
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K

In one of baseball’s most inexplicable statistical quirks, the Mets -- employers of some of the greatest pitchers of all time -- had gone 8,019 consecutive games without any of them throwing a no-hitter. Santana was not a prime candidate to snap the streak when he took the mound on a late spring night, making just his 11th start since a full-year absence due to left shoulder surgery. The Mets had been careful with Santana, allowing him to eclipse 100 pitches just three times in the first 10 of those games.

Then Santana created history, firing the first no-hitter in franchise history. Far from perfect, Santana walked five batters and allowed several hard-hit balls, including a Carlos Beltrán liner that appeared to kick up chalk from the left-field line (umpires ruled it foul), and a deep Yadier Molina fly that Mike Baxter caught against the wall while fracturing his collarbone. All told, Santana needed 134 pitches to complete nine innings, creating what manager Terry Collins called one of the most stressful situations of his decades-long career.

Santana’s performance was hardly perfect, not even ranking among the Top 60 pitcher Game Scores in franchise history. But for the Mets, it was a gem 50 years in the making.

3. Bobby J. Jones, Oct. 8, 2000 vs. Giants
9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The greatest playoff pitching performance in Mets history belonged not to Seaver or Dwight Gooden or Jacob deGrom, but instead to Jones, who dominated the Giants in a one-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 2000 National League Division Series. Jones allowed just three baserunners, all of them in a harrowing fifth inning that saw him load the bases on a double and two walks. He popped up Mark Gardner to escape that jam and preserve a two-run lead, then finished the game the same way he began it: with four consecutive perfect innings.

It wound up being the only career postseason win for Jones, who struggled in both of his subsequent appearances that October. But what an October it was for the Mets. Eight days after Jones delivered his gem, Mike Hampton fired a three-hitter against the Cardinals to clinch the pennant for the Mets (in another game that could easily have earned a spot on this list).

4. Al Leiter, Oct. 4, 1999 at Reds
9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 7 K

Much as Jones gave the Mets the game of his life in a 2000 NLDS game, Leiter delivered one of his finest performances in a Game 163 to determine the 1999 NL Wild Card representative. In a must-win game, Leiter proved shaky early, with two walks, a hit and a deep fly ball in the first three innings. But then he grew nearly unhittable, retiring 13 straight at one juncture. With the cushion of a five-run lead, the Mets did something that would be considered unthinkable these days, allowing Leiter to throw a complete game on 135 pitches despite two men reaching base against him in the ninth. The result was one of the finest pitching performances the franchise has seen.

5 (tie). David Cone, Oct. 6, 1991 vs. Phillies
9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 19 K

5. Seaver, April 22, 1970 vs. Padres
9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 19 K

Any number of Seaver games could make this list, including his 12-inning performance against the Dodgers in 1974 or his 15-strikeout one-hitter against the Phillies in 1970. But there is perhaps no better example of Seaver’s dominance than the day he struck out 19 Padres in a game.

Nineteen strikeouts stood as the Mets record until Cone matched it 21 years later, pitching a two-hit shutout against the Phillies on the final day of the season. Cone walked only one batter, throwing 141 pitches.

Bonus: Rob Gardner, Oct. 2, 1965 vs. Phillies
15 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K

The highest Game Score in Mets history does not belong to any of the men above, but instead to Gardner, a struggling 20-year-old rookie who would go on to have an eight-year journeyman career. Heading into the final weekend of another last-place season, the expansion Mets sent Gardner to the mound for Game 2 of a doubleheader against the also-out-of-contention Phillies. His job was to soak up outs.

And so Gardner did, matching Philadelphia starter Chris Short for nine scoreless innings. Then 10. Then 11. Finally, after 15 innings and an untold number of pitches -- pitch counts wouldn’t become an official statistic for three more decades -- both Gardner and Short exited. Three innings after that, the game was suspended and ended in a tie.

Per Major League rules, the game did not count in the standings (the Mets and Phillies started from scratch the next day), but the individual statistics did enter the record books. So in a way, Gardner’s miraculous performance -- 15 innings, five hits, no runs, two walks and seven strikeouts -- was lost to history.