How can I explain this? When it comes to no-hitters, the thing about being a Mets fan was that it always felt like everyone got to have a birthday except me. With the exception of the San Diego Padres, every franchise in baseball had at least one no-hitter in its history but the Mets. Every fanbase had experienced that magical feeling that comes out of nowhere, when a regular game turns into a piece of history, when the guy on the mound for their team has talent and fate and maybe a generous umpire on his side and throws nine hitless innings -- except us luckless followers of the Mets. As a fan of the team for more than 40 years, I had resigned myself to a lifetime of watching other teams periodically hit the lottery. For my Mets, a no-no would never be.
And then Friday night happened.
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After 50 years and 8,019 games, the great Johan Santana finally gave Mets fans a birthday of their own, throwing a gutty no-hitter against the Cardinals in an 8-0 Mets' win. I can tell you that Santana's masterpiece goes right up there with the Mets' World Series titles in 1969 and '86 as the greatest moments in franchise history, and that's because of the wait. The next one -- if there ever is another one -- won't feel as grand as this. Santana struck out David Freese to end it, and I will deny that I reacted by jumping out of my chair at home in California, letting out a huge victory yell and pumping my fist at the television. There were no witnesses, so it didn't happen.
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The first year of baseball I remember is '69, when Tom Seaver took a perfect game into the ninth and Jimmy Qualls -- Jimmy Qualls? -- dumped a single into left-center between Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee to ruin it. Ever since then it seemed as if no-hitters were unattainable for the Mets. Even when pitchers went deep into games with a no-no, it never really felt as if it would happen. And so when I saw on this Web site that Santana had pitched five hitless innings on Friday, I began to follow the game online, even though I was sure it would end in disappointment, like always.
But he got through the sixth, and then the seventh. The game became almost operatic, as leftfielder Mike Baxter sacrificed his shoulder crashing into the wall to make a catch to preserve the no-hitter. Mets killer Yadier Molina gave fans indigestion every time he came to the plate. Ex-Mets whipping boy Carlos Beltran was in uniform for the Cardinals, and wouldn't it be just like the Mets if they allowed Beltran to break up the masterpiece? On top of that, raindrops began to fall. No way was this going to happen.
I tweeted that manager Terry Collins wouldn't let Santana finish due to the high pitch count and the team's concern about putting too much stress on his surgically repaired shoulder. But then he went out for the eighth inning, and my fan superstition came into play. I turned to the MLB Network, which was televising the ninth inning, and after I pushed the buttons on the remote, I. Did. Not. Move.
When Santana finished, striking out Freese with a change-up. I sat there in shock. And then the best part happened: People who knew me, who knew what it felt like to be a Mets fan, began contacting me. My son texted me from Oregon and one of my best friends did the same from Florida. The texts came within seconds of each other and said exactly the same thing, "Johan!!" I flashed back to the days when I lived in Hempstead and took the train into Flushing to go to Shea Stadium. I saw Seaver and Koosman. I saw Gooden and Darling. But I never saw this.
Now I have. Now all Mets fans have. We have proof that sometimes the roulette wheel stops on blue-and-orange, that we're as likely as anyone else to stumble into good fortune. We've always said "Ya Gotta Believe." After Friday night, we really do.