On Friday night, June 1, 2012, Johan Santana wrote his name in both the Mets and MLB records books when he no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a remarkable pitching performance, to say the least. Teams in the National League really need to start taking notice of the top two hurlers in the Mets rotation, RA Dickey being the other.
While no-hitters are tremendous personal achievements, they normally come with a bit of controversy and at least one spectacular defensive play. In some cases, it is the reverse where a questionable defensive play can put the spotlight on the official scorer. There was a game last season involving the Memphis Redbirds where the official scorer reversed his decision several times, with the final ruling a hit, meaning no no-hitter.
The sensational play came with one out in the seventh inning. Yadier Molina hit a hard line drive that appeared to be heading for the wall. Mets left fielder, Mike Baxter, got a good jump and made the catch. He stumbled as he made the catch, which caused the young left fielder to hit the wall with his shoulder. He had to be removed from the game and was later placed on the 15 day disabled list with a severely separated shoulder. Infielder, Ramon Martinez was also injured in the game, not from play, but while running onto the fielder after the game to celebrate Santana’s no-hitter.
The controversy came an inning earlier when Carlos Beltran lined a ball down the third base line. Third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled the ball foul, even though it kicked up quite a bit of chalk dust when it hit the ground. A close look at the spot where the ball hit the foul line clearly showed that the ball was fair, but Johnson stood by his original call.
Making a big deal about this one call only makes Cardinals fans look like poor losers, and it does not change the fact that Santana pitched a brilliant game, so we should put the play and game behind us. After all, the Cardinals had plenty of other chances against Santana, and the Mets lefty won each of those battles.
That does bring up an interesting question. While this was the first no-hitter in Mets history, how does it rank up in great Mets pitching performances ? Unfortunately for Santana, not as high as you might expect, especially if we start casting a net that includes one-hitters, during pennant chases – and TWO simply unbelievable games.
September 11 and October 1, 1985
With the NL East Championship in the balance, Cardinals and Mets faced each other twice in the final month of the season, once in New York and once in St. Louis. John Tudor got the start in both games for the Cardinals. Dwight Gooden started for the Mets on September 11 and Ron Darling in St. Louis on October 1. Both games went into extra innings scoreless. All three pitchers were sensational. Tudor won the first game in ten innings when Jesse Orosco gave up a solo home run to Cesar Cedeno in the tenth. It seems only fitting that Orosco was on the mound for the Mets in the 11th inning of the second game when Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley gave up a solo home run to Darryl Strawberry.
September 15, 1986
The same two teams met late in season, but this time the Mets would run away with the NL East title, on their way to another World Series championship. Again, it would be John Tudor on the mound for the Cardinals, but an injury while pitching in the third inning made it a short outing for the Cards lefty. This time it was Rick Horton who was the hero for the Redbirds, pitching seven scoreless innings of relief.
On the Mets side of the diamond, Ron Darling again proved to be too much for the Cardinals hitters, as he held the Cardinals scoreless for nine innings. A bases loaded walk by Curt Ford (off Roger McDowell) was the only run in the game as the Cardinals win 1-0 in 13 innings.
July 19, 1969 – Chicago at New York
In this midseason match up, the first place Chicago Cubs had one of their best on the mound, Ken Holtzman. Unfortunately for the Cubbies, he drew Tom Seaver as his opponent, and this was Seaver at his best – well, one of his best.
As the game moved into the ninth inning, a Cleon Jones solo home run was the difference as the Mets led 1-0. More importantly, Seaver had yet to give up a hit. Randy Hundley would make the first out as he grounds out harmlessly to Seaver. The light hitting Jim Qualls (why is it always the light hitting guys) broke up Seaver’s no hit bid with a no doubter single to left center field. Seaver retired the next two batters to finish an impressive one hit complete game shutout.
But wait, there’s more……
May 15, 1970 – New York at Philadelphia
Seaver was on fire again and would throw another one-hitter. This time the hit came in the third inning, so there wasn’t nearly the drama as in the Chicago game the previous season. Seaver would strike out 15 in the 4-0 victory over the Phillies.
April 22, 1970 San Diego at New York
In his fifth start of the 1970 season, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner made quick work of the San Diego Padres. Al Ferrara would lead off the second inning with a home run, the first hit that Seaver would allow. The second, and final hit, was a single by Dave Campbell in the fourth inning. Following the Campbell single, Seaver retired the next 16 Padres hitters in order, 13 by way of the strikeout – but it was even more impressive than that. He fanned the last 10 Padres hitters, setting a major league record for consecutive strikeouts that still stands today. He also tied the major league record for strikeouts in a game at 19 (it has subsequently been broken).
Seaver would throw several more one hitters in his career. Not to worry though, Seaver would finally throw a no-hitter on June 16, 1978, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. His opponent that day ? Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals.
There are two more games that stand out as great pitching performances, one by a team and one by the most unlikely individual.
April 15, 1968 – New York at Houston
This was the fifth game of the season for the Mets, and the second start by the reigning Rookie of the Year, Tom Seaver. Both Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman had thrown shutouts in their 1968 debuts (Koosman would throw another in his next start). Seaver outdid both of these fine pitchers by throwing 10 shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits. Unfortunately, the hard throwing Don Wilson was nearly as stingy.
Seven relievers would follow Seaver, throwing 13 more scoreless innings. In his third inning of work, Les Rohr loaded the bases and an error by Mets shortstop, Al Weis, led to the only score in the game as Houston won 1-0 in 24 innings.
All of these games were child’s play compared to this gem from Al Jackson.
August 14, 1962 – Philadelphia at New York
This game might go by totally unnoticed if you don’t look closely at the box score. After all, how can a 3-1 game between two teams that are a combined 72 games out of first place be all that interesting. Because it was – it was unbelievable.
Dallas Green of the Phillies gave up a run in the bottom of the third inning on a pair of singles. The pivotal moment of the game came when Green threw a wild pitch to Al Jackson, which allowed Rod Kanehl to move into scoring position. He would score a few moments later on a Richie Ashburn single. That gave the Mets a 1-0 lead.
Jackson would give the Phillies back that run in the fifth inning. A walk, sacrifice bunt and a single by Tony Taylor tied the game at one. That was the first hit that Jackson allowed.
After a single by Don Demeter in the sixth inning, Jackson would retire the next 14 hitters. That string was broken when Johnny Callison laid down a perfect bunt with one out in the eleventh. Oh, we’re not through – far from it.
Jackson would finally get into trouble in the 15th inning, and it all started when Marv Throneberry dropped a throw from third baseman, Sammy Drake. If Throneberry holds onto that throw, the inning might have played out differently. Jackson came unraveled for a moment and allowed a pair of runs. He lost the game, 3-1 but went the distance in the 4:35 15 inning marathon. It is estimated that Jackson threw more that 180 pitches that game. Even though it was a loss, the gutsy performance by Al Jackson has to go down in the Mets history book as the greatest game ever pitched.
I’m sure there are more. If you have some of your favorites, please let me know about them in the comments.
One final word from an old Cardinals fans – Congratulations to Johan Santana on a brilliantly pitched game. I’m sorry that it had to be my favorite team that was no-hit, but it was a genuine pleasure to watch someone pitch that masterfully, especially after all of the injury troubles.