Johan’s No-No Keeps Collins on Edge

Whenever a pitcher for the New York Mets throws a no-hitter, it’s inevitably vivisected in every conceivable fashion by the American sporting media.

Okay, so it’s happened all of once, now that Johan Santana turned the trick against St. Louis on Friday. The event’s rarity, especially within the context of the ballclub, put all the more pressure on manager Terry Collins, who faced some tough decisions. One of them centered on the unwritten rule that says not to change anything during a no-hitters. Not the defensive alignment behind the pitcher, not the seating order on the bench. Not anything.

Because this piece of Code is based almost entirely on superstition, logic doesn’t play much of a factor. In Collins’ case, however, he had a pair of very real considerations as the game reached the late innings. On one hand, Santana was coming as close to the deed as anyone in the 8,019-game history of the organization. On the other, the left-hander was pushing the upper limits of his pitch-count threshold (which Collins had listed at 115 prior to the game). Santana missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, and had never topped 125 pitches in a game in his career, even when fully healthy. This wasn’t a superstitious decision for Collins, but a tactical one.

When Santana hit 115 pitches in the eighth while walking Rafael Furcal, Collins visited him on the mound. Ultimately, of course, the manager opted against change, and left his star in to determine his own fate.

“I just couldn’t take him out,” Collins said in Newsday. “I just couldn’t do it.”

Ultimately, of course, Santana finished the game—in 134 pitches—and New York rejoiced. “To a man, we all agreed that he’d have to rip the ball out of our hands,” pitcher R.A. Dickey told Newsday.

“I went against just about everything I stand for, and that’s taking a chance to hurt your whole ballclub for the next four months for an instant decision of glory in one inning,” Collins said in an MLB.com report. “Is it worth it? I believe in the organization and I believe in the team, and I’m not here to destroy any of it. . . . . If this guy goes down, it would be pretty drastic for us. But also to understand there’s history in the making and in the moment, in that particular moment, he wasn’t coming out. I wasn’t taking him out.”

Even if Code adherents applaud Collins for his lack of action when it came to pitching changes, there’s no getting around his seventh-inning breach of the unwritten rule that stipulates a no-hitter in progress must never be referenced out loud, directly or otherwise. That’s when he approached Santana in the dugout and, according to the pitcher, “told me that I was his hero.” Santana responded by telling his manager he would not be coming out of the game.

Were there a jinx, needless to say that it was ineffective.

Santana’s no-hitter left just one team remaining without a no-hitter in the books: the Padres. This is relevant, because San Diego might actually have had a no-hitter by now were it not for the fact that, unlike Collins, then-Padres manager Preston Gomez changed something during the course of Clay Kirby’s masterpiece in 1970: the pitcher himself.

It was the bottom of the eighth inning, and although Kirby was coasting, a first-inning walk, followed by two stolen bases and a fielder’s choice, left him with a 1-0 deficit. When he was scheduled to hit with two outs and nobody on, Gomez pulled him for pinch-hitter Cito Gaston, who promptly struck out to end the inning.

The other detail that ties Kirby to Santana’s no-hitter: His opponent was none other than the New York Mets—Bud Harrelson broke up the no-hitter as the first batter to face reliever Jack Baldschun. (In fact, according to Baseball Reference, 13 pitchers have tossed at least seven no-hit innings without being allowed to finish the game. One pitcher who doesn’t qualify is longtime Mets stalwart Sid Fernandez, who threw five no-hit frames against the Giants in 1987, but had to exit after injuring his hamstring while legging out a triple.)

Ultimately, all’s well that ends well—or at least it will if Santana suffers no lasting repercussions from his exertion. Even if he does, David Wright hit it squarely in his manager’s defense when he said, “I don’t think anybody had the courage to go and take the ball from him.”

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Filed under Johan Santana, No-Hitter Etiquette, Terry Collins

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