NEW YORK — Johan Santana came off the field after celebrating his no-hitter with his New York Mets teammates and saw manager Terry Collins waiting on the top step of the dugout. The two men embraced and Santana said: "I told you to trust me."
"I said, 'Yeah you did,'" Collins said Saturday, still proud a day after Santana threw the first no-hitter in team history — a wait of more than 50 years and 8,000 games.
Santana said his surgically repaired left shoulder felt fine in the aftermath of throwing a career-high 134 pitches.
Collins said he was conflicted about letting Santana pitch for so long against St. Louis, but ultimately realized he was not going to deny the Mets ace a chance at making history. The former Angels skipper has only been with the Mets for two years, but he knew how much getting a no-hitter — finally, after all those seasons and excellent pitchers who have come and gone from Queens — would mean to the organization and its fans.
"He wasn't coming out. I wasn't going to take him out," Collins said. "The fight that would have taken place on the mound had I taken him out would have been a bigger story than the no-hitter."
If Santana winds up missing more than a few days, that could overshadow one of the finest moments in team history. Santana wasn't thinking about that. Not with a no-hitter just a few outs away.
"When I had that situation there, I knew I have to take the most out of it. And then we'll figure it out tomorrow," Santana said. "Today I felt fine. Definitely, next couple days are going to be important to see how I recover, and if we have to take an extra day, there's nothing wrong with that."
"Terry and all the staff, they know what they're doing. We're going to do whatever's best for all of us. If that means taking an extra day, there's nothing wrong with that," he said.
When Collins went home last night, he said he was still hoping he made the right decision. He said he heard from general manager Sandy Alderson and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, among others.
"The general consensus was, 'Don't beat yourself down over this, you made the right move,'" Collins said. "I appreciate that. I appreciate their confidence in the move."
Collins has been proactive about preventing injuries this season. In April, he learned that David Wright jammed a finger, and took him out of the lineup rather than let the star third baseman play through the pain and risk exacerbating it, or harming his production.
Wright missed three days and is off to a torrid start with a .469 on-base percentage, more walks than strikeouts, and five home runs. Santana has waited an extra day between starts when the schedule and roster allowed, and Collins has limited his pitches. In a four-hit shutout of San Diego his last time out, Santana only needed 96 pitches, though Collins said he would have pulled him after about 10-15 more.
Though pitch counts are mostly a guess at limiting fatigue, and some pitchers can tolerate more use than others, Collins was anxious. In the end, he just couldn't bring himself to deny Santana his moment, even though he knew it was a risk.
"You take a major piece and all of a sudden he's not there and he's a big piece, you really struggle with, 'Was it the right decision to make?'" And we won't know for a couple days," Collins said. "Sandy supported it, Jeff supported it. I got a tremendous call from Tony La Russa today, which I was appreciative of, saying, 'Look you did the right thing.' So when it comes from those people, you feel a lot better about it."
Collins couldn't do much about the injury to Mike Baxter that happened when the left fielder preserved the no-hit bid in the seventh inning by running full speed at the wall to make a catch, then crashing into it at full speed. He injured his shoulder and left the game. Collins said Baxter was having tests.
Those tests included an MRI and a CT scan, and may have included an exam to see if he had a concussion.
Whatever the cost winds up being, the Mets have their first no-hitter.
"My first reaction was 'Wow, they finally did it,'" Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said in a statement. "Honestly, not having a no-hitter was an anomaly. It's great to get this off the franchise's back. Now they can't say the Mets are without a no-hitter."
The absence of a gem had dogged fans and the organization for years — the last several of which have been full of late-season collapses, injuries, trades and only recently, a little bit of promise from some young players who have contributed.
"It's been a trying two years due to injuries and due to moves that have been made and we're trying to establish some credibility, not just in the city but in major league baseball," Collins said. "I think what happened last night gave us credentials."