Mets fans have waited a long time for the game they saw last night at CitiField. 8,019 games and 52 years to be exact. In the interim, they had 6 no-hitters pitched against them, 35 1-hitters pitched for them and seemingly countless ex-Mets (Ryan, Seaver, Gooden, Cone, Humber, etc) pitch no-no’s and perfect games either before or after being affiliated with the club. Websites have been devoted to this cause, and radio broadcaster Howie Rose has been chasing this white whale to the ends of the Earth for at least the past 20 years.
Amidst the joy and celebration of the Johan Santana no hitter and that huge monkey being lifted off the collective backs of Mets fans last night, we had some of the usual fare from various websites questioning the validity of last night’s outcome. Its straight from the media playbook. In every no-hitter there has to be at least one great defensive play and one controversial call by an umpire. Has to. The media is a business like any other, and every business has tried and true techniques to get people to do what they want, in this case to generate interest and discussion about an event. The added public interest makes the event seem important on the surface, the same way that playoff games feel more important than regular season games. But at the end of the day it’s all just baseball, and luck is weaved heavily throughout the game. Whether in a playoff game, a no-hitter or a Tuesday game in May, it has always struck me as displaying a fundamental lack of understanding about the game to attribute credit or assign blame for an outcome based on any one or two plays. There are so many variables, so much randomness that can occur on every one of the 27 outs. The difference in a batter producing the trajectory that sends the ball past a fielder’s glove is literally millimeters on the bat off a 90+ MPH pitch that is bending and sinking either toward or away from him. If we are to closely examine any one play, to be fair we should go back and micro-analyze all of the other 26 outs. We should also go through every pitch to see which borderline pitches were actually strikes and which weren’t. If we did that, we would quickly be led away from scapegoating and toward a larger truth.
Nolan Ryan, who knows a thing or two about throwing no-hitters, has often been quoted saying he had better stuff and better control in some of his one-hitters and two-hitters. But in those games some bottom-of-the-lineup batter was beaten on a pitch, took a half-hearted defensive swing and blooped the ball over the head of one of the infielders. Or dribbled a swinging bunt in the no man’s land between the pitcher and third baseman. Conversely, in some of his no-hitters he had innings where he threw some awful pitches, the hitters crushed the ball, but they went right at a fielder. So clearly the skill contribution on the part of the pitcher isn’t enough to get you from the pedestrian land of 1 hitters to the promised land of no-hitters. The difference between a 1 (or 2) hitter and a no hitter is really all about luck. Have the Mets up to this point been unlucky as a franchise? Bill Buckner would beg to differ. Beating the juggernaut Oriole’s in 1969 is still considered a miracle to this day. It may have taken 52 years to have the no-hitter come up on the Mets roulette wheel, but that’s life in the casino.
So congratulations go out to Mets fans, and now that you’ve got that monkey off your collective backs you can take a step back and see these games for what they are. Just a roll of baseball’s slot machine where the three 7s finally comes up. Last night was your night, and maybe after your long drought you have some mojo heading your way.
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