Johan Santana was past 130 pitches and fans at Citi Field were high-fiving with every out, hoping this was finally the night the New York Mets had waited for.
All those famous arms — Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine — and not a single no-hitter in more than 50 years of baseball.
Not until Santana finished the job Friday night.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner pitched the first no-hitter in team history, aided by an umpire’s mistake and an outstanding catch during an 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
After a string of close calls over the last five decades, Santana went all the way in the Mets’ 8,020th game.
“Finally, the first one,” he said. “That is the greatest feeling ever.”
He needed a couple of key assists to pull it off.
Carlos Beltran, back at Citi Field for the first time since the Mets traded him last July, hit a line drive over third base in the sixth inning that hit the foul line and should have been called fair. But third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul and the no-hitter was intact — even though a replay clearly showed a mark where the ball landed on the chalk line.
“I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul,” Johnson told a pool reporter.
The umpire acknowledged that he saw the replay afterward, but declined to comment.
“It was in front of his face, and he called it foul. I thought it was a fair ball,” Beltran said. “At the end of the day, one hit wasn’t going to make a difference in the ballgame.”
With the next batter at the plate, though, Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo twice got in Johnson’s face for heated arguments — the two even appeared to bump each other. Rookie manager Mike Matheny also came out to protest, but nobody was ejected.
“It’s not like there’s going to be an asterisk by it. That’s the way the game goes,” Matheny said.
Hometown kid Mike Baxter then made an extraordinary catch to rob Yadier Molina of extra bases in the seventh. Baxter crashed into the left-field wall full force, injured his shoulder and left the game.
“I’m glad I had a chance to be part of it. It’s a great night for the Mets,” said Baxter, who grew up 10 minutes from where Citi Field stands.
Santana certainly appreciated the effort.
“He saved the game,” the pitcher said.
Making his 11th start since missing last season following shoulder surgery, Santana (3-2) threw a career-high 134 pitches in his second consecutive shutout. Relying on a sneaky fastball and the baffling changeup that’s always been his signature, he struck out eight and walked five with wind gusting up to 30 mph.
“Amazing,” Santana said after tossing the majors’ third no-hitter this year. “Coming into this season I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team, and now I am in this situation in the greatest city for baseball.”
Before the game, Mets manager Terry Collins said he planned to limit Santana to 110-115 pitches all season. Collins practically sprinted to the mound after a two-out walk in the eighth, drawing boos from the crowd of 27,069, and then hustled back to the dugout after a brief chat, bringing cheers.
Santana, traded to the Mets by Minnesota before the 2008 season, was at 122 pitches going into the ninth. He finished with the most by a major leaguer since Brandon Morrow threw 137 for Toronto on Aug. 8, 2010, according to STATS LLC.
“I just couldn’t take him out,” a choked-up Collins said afterward, acknowledging he won’t feel good about it if the left-hander’s arm hurts in five days.
Prior to Santana’s gem, there had been 131 no-hitters in the majors since New York began play in 1962, including Roy Halladay’s in the playoffs, STATS said. None of them belonged to the Mets.
“I’m really happy for them,” said Boston manager Bobby Valentine, who managed the Mets from 1996-2002. “That’s been an albatross over the pitching in that franchise forever, since ’62. One of the best pitchers they’ve ever had threw it and that also gives credibility to it.”
Ryan, Seaver, Gooden and David Cone are among the seven Mets pitchers who tossed no-hitters after leaving the team.
Philip Humber is another one. He pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox at Seattle on April 21, and Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels no-hit Minnesota on May 2.
Following the game, Santana addressed his teammates in the clubhouse and thanked them.
“Tonight we all made history,” he said. “Yeah, baby! Believe it!”
Back home in Venezuela, Santana’s achievement was big news. President Hugo Chavez congratulated the pitcher in a message on Twitter, calling him a “golden left-hander” and “Giant Johan.”
“What pride! Long live Venezuela!” Chavez said in the message.
Santana got a warm hand as he headed to the mound for the ninth. He quickly retired Matt Holliday and Allen Craig on shallow fly balls as the roar picked up and fans captured video of it all on their cell phones.
“I was manicuring third base like I was getting ready to make a putt to win the Masters. You don’t want to be the guy who kicks one,” David Wright said.
With the crowd on its feet, World Series MVP David Freese went to a 3-2 count before his foul tip was caught by Josh Thole, just activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.
Santana pumped his left fist, slammed it into his glove and shouted as Thole showed the ball to plate umpire Gary Cederstrom and then ran toward the mound to hug Santana.
“That was awesome. Short of Tom Seaver, I couldn’t think of a better person to pitch the first one,” Wright said. “I thought there would be no chance he could finish, based on his high pitch count early on. I don’t think anyone had the courage to take the ball from him.”
The Mets rushed out of the dugout and mobbed Santana as security guards tackled a fan who ran into the pile. Moments later, the pitcher raised his right arm and saluted the crowd, which chanted his name from the eighth inning on — then again as fans filed out of the ballpark.
The big scoreboard in center field flashed Santana’s picture and read “No-Han.”
Lucas Duda hit a three-run homer off Adam Wainwright (4-6) and drove in four runs, tying a career high. Daniel Murphy added three RBIs.
The San Diego Padres, who started play in 1969, are now the only team without a no-hitter.
The Mets’ seemingly endless pursuit had become something of an infamous quest, with at least one website dedicated to counting off their total number of games without a no-hitter each day during the season. Radio announcer Howie Rose often did the same when the opposing team got its first hit.
Seaver came within two outs of a perfect game in 1969 and fell one out shy of a no-hitter in 1975, the previous time a Mets pitcher had made it into the ninth without yielding a hit. In the past decade, Glavine and John Maine both got within four outs.
NOTES: Santana’s previous high was 125 pitches on Sept. 23, 2008. … The last Mets pitcher to throw consecutive shutouts was David Cone in May 1992. … It was the eighth no-hitter pitched against St. Louis, the top-hitting team in the NL this season, and first since Fernando Valenzuela for the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 29, 1990.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.