Don’t Mess With The Johan
The only theory that ever held any water was that the Mets had played all of their home games in parks with three of the largest fair-territory square footage totals. Far-away fences might mean fewer home runs, but they increase the chances of hits in distant outfield corners, or even catchable balls that were just out of range of fielders who had just that much more ground to cover, and that’s why the Mets had never thrown a no-hit game!
The problems with this explanation still obtained as the New York team took the field for what we all presumed was the 8,020th game in their no-hit-free history tonight. Even such a simply understood theory of simple math did not account for the facts a) that they have played roughly half of their games in other stadiums with less hit-friendly terrains, b) that visiting teams threw no-hitters in the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium (hell, Bob Moose no-hit them at Shea Stadium when they were three weeks from becoming the Miracle Mets of 1969), and c) that the New York Giants, the previous occupants of the Polo Grounds, threw plenty of no-hitters there, even when the dimensions in straightaway center reached as much as 505 feet as recently as 1949.
However, with Johan Santana ending the Mets’ 50+ years of no-no-hitters tonight, the Square Footage Theory gained some new credence and respectability. Obviously, the Mets moved in the fences at virtually all points of the outfield at CitiField over the winter to increase home run production, and have gotten about a dozen dingers for their trouble. But it is unmistakable that just 28 games into the new, smaller fair footage field dimensions, the team got its first no-hitter. Fair territory is only 98 percent as large as it was last year in Flushing, and in those areas more than 300 feet from home plate, it’s only 95 percent as large.
Suddenly the theory has a lot more life to it, but I still feel like we’re in the dark ages of research here. As evidence of…something…eight ex-Mets went on to throw no-hitters for other teams (Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Mike Scott, Hideo Nomo, Phil Humber and Jim Bibby, who was on the regular season Mets’ roster and in uniform in 1969 but never got into a League game). Finally, Santana has put a period at the end of all the data.
Of course, he really didn’t. Just as Armando Galarraga actually threw a perfect game for Detroit in 2010 but first base umpire Jim Joyce took it away from him by as mind-bogglingly lunkheaded a False-Safe call as any of us has ever seen, ex-Met Carlos Beltran actually broke up Santana’s bid leading the top of the 6th. Beltran sent a screamer over the bag at third that clearly caused the puff of tell-tale chalk as it landed fair behind the bag for what should have been a single or a double. Umpire Adrian Johnson flat out blew it – an undeniable fact that will always taint Santana’s effort tonight no matter how heroic, nor how extraordinary the saving catch by Flushing native and life-long Met fan Mike Baxter as he went shoulder-first into the left field wall to rob Yadier Molina in the 7th.
Incidentally, that fence would’ve been about thirteen feet further away last year. Baxter might’ve missed the ball, or not hurt himself, or been playing Molina differently, or who knows what.
If you want a more whimsical theory of why Santana finally did what Seaver et al did not do as Mets, there is this. I had personally witnessed only part of one no-hitter – Dave Righetti’s at Yankee Stadium in 1983. I had to leave that one to get to a sportscast I was doing for CNN. I thereafter instituted a rule that I would never leave a game before each pitcher’s no-hitter had been broken. Tonight was my first game back at a park in the two weeks since I underwent minor surgery. I underestimated the wear and tear of being up on my feet again, and also how quickly the post-op pain would kick in. So – yep – after two innings, with the discomfort literally making me feel faint – I went home.
Congrats to Johan Santana. I’m happy to take all the credit. Or you can rack it up to the Fair Territory Factor. Whatever: the Mets’ inexplicable streak is finally at rest.
Unless you want to make a dealio about that blown call.