It is said that “Pride goeth before the fall” (Proverbs, 16:18).
There are countless examples of this maxim in the worlds of politics, business, and our own daily lives. At the same time, there is a spirit of pride (and determination) that can lift up and inspire. That’s the kind of pride that this story is about.
Last Friday evening, at Citi Field, in the working class borough of Queens, in the City of New York, Johan Santana threw a no-hitter. While a noteworthy accomplishment on its own (there have only been 275 no-hitters in the major leagues since 1875), it is not why grown men cried at the feat and an entire city was elated for days afterward. To understand that part, you need to know the context.
Santana pitches for the New York Mets—a team nicknamed “The Amazins” not for their stellar play, but for their sometimes historic ineptitude punctuated by periods of break-your-heart, so-near-and-yet-so-far brushes with greatness (cue the song, “Ya’ Gotta Have Heart,” from the classic musical, “Damn Yankees,” and you’ve got the picture). The past five years have been a microcosm of the team’s 50-year history:
- They came within one pitch of the World Series in 2006 when they had the best team in baseball (losing in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the League Championship Series with the bases loaded, a 3-2 count, and their best hitter at the plate).
- They suffered two of the greatest collapses in baseball history at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, missing the playoffs in almost inconceivably excruciating fashion.
- This was followed by three losing seasons in which ownership lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff scandal and couldn’t seem to get anything right (e.g., dedicating the entrance to their new ballpark to a player from another team and failing to honor great players from their own team’s history).
Oh, yes—there’s one other thing. Seven Mets pitchers have gone on to pitch no-hitters for other teams. None have pitched no-hitters with the Mets (one of only two teams with this distinction). 8,019 games and counting. That is, until Mr. Santana took the mound the other night.
Before coming to the Mets in 2008, Santana had won two Cy Young Awards and was recognized as one of the best pitchers in baseball. In his first three seasons with the Mets, he pitched very well—and always with great heart. (He threw a complete game shutout on the second-to-last day of the 2008 season to extend the Mets’ hopes on a damaged knee that would require reconstructive surgery two days later). He suffered a serious injury to his pitching shoulder at the end of 2010, though, that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season, and many feared for his career. After an intense year of rehabilitation (read: “character is what you do when no one is looking”), he was ready to test his shoulder against major league competition again. Ten starts into this season, the results were very promising—he seemed to have regained his old form. Then came last Friday night.
Pride That Uplifts
Santana took the mound that night fully aware of the Mets’ recent history, and knowing how much the team’s good performance so far this year has encouraged what has been a downtrodden, dispirited fan base in recent years. He also knows how much his leadership on and off the field sets the tone for a team of no-name players who no one expects anything from. ”He sets the bar for us,” pitcher Jonathon Niese said. ”Everybody feeds off him.”
Cut to Friday night. When the game got to the 5th inning without a hit, you knew something special might be brewing. You also knew that, at 79 pitches, it would be virtually impossible for Santana to finish the game without risking the health of his surgically repaired shoulder. And then came the sixth, and you saw the leftfielder virtually knock himself unconscious crashing into the wall while making a catch to preserve the no-hitter. And you hoped.
The Moment of Truth
In the seventh inning, manager Terry Collins approached his ace pitcher in the dugout. No one could have faulted either of them for playing it safe and pulling Santana from the game to preserve his health. However, number 57 stated in no uncertain terms his intent to finish the game. His manager didn’t argue, and the die was cast. Thirty minutes and two innings later, on his 134th and final pitch, the mission was complete. The Mets had a no hitter. Santana was forever enshrined in New York baseball history. And city, and a fan base, and a team so often short on hope, now had some.
It’s only a game—except when it’s not. Sometimes—when heart and pride and determination rule the day—it can be so much more.
When have you seen leaders lead with the good kind of pride? What difference did it make to their team (their organization)?
- Santana delivers the Amazin’s first no-hitter (nypost.com)
- FINALLY! Santana gives Mets their first no-hitter (nbcsports.msnbc.com)
- Why Johan Santana’s No-Hitter Is Proof 2012 Will Be a Magical Season in Queens (bleacherreport.com)
- Tom Seaver Takes Pride in Johan Santana’s No-Hitter (nytimes.com)
- Johan Santana No-HItter: This Doesn’t Seem Real (newyork.sbnation.com)
- Phil Taylor: Grand moment of Santana’s no-hitter worth wait for one Mets fan (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)