Johan Santana reacts to the final out of his no-hitter....

Johan Santana reacts to the final out of his no-hitter. (June 1, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

He had thrown an arbitrary number out a few hours before Johan Santana took the mound, so Terry Collins knew he was in a predicament, one in which he figured there was a lone solution.

With the Mets' ace already having thrown 122 pitches -- seven more than the maximum the manager wanted to allow -- Collins briefly wrestled with the decision of whether to send Santana back to the mound in the ninth. He was, after all, flirting with tossing the first no-hitter in franchise history.

Santana had missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, and the Mets need to be careful with him. Still, the choice was clear. "I just couldn't take him out," Collins said. "I just couldn't do it."

Particularly after Collins called Santana his "hero" in the seventh as the two chatted for a moment on the bench. Good thing he didn't take him out. Otherwise, Santana wouldn't have etched his name into Mets lore.

In the 51st season for the franchise, Santana threw the Mets' first no-hitter Friday night, an 8-0 win over the Cardinals before an announced crowd of 27,069 at Citi Field. Santana -- who threw a career-high 134 pitches, nine more than his previous high -- walked five, struck out eight and seemingly got stronger as the game wore on.

It took 8,020 games to do it, but the Mets finally got that elusive no-hitter -- with a little help from Mike Baxter and third-base umpire Adrian Johnson.

"I knew how the Mets had never had a no-hitter. I never had one," said Santana, adding he's never even thrown one in a video game. "So this is very special. We worked very hard, all the things that we have gone through, that I have been through. This is very, very special and I know this means a lot to New York."

Santana's gritty outing left a big impression on his teammates as well as Fred Wilpon. Said the owner, "That was incredible."

Said David Wright: "Man, that was awesome. Short of Tom Seaver, I can't think of a better person to pitch the first one. Just the type of guy he is, the type of person he is and what he's been through the last year, and to come back and have that type of performance, I mean that was incredible. I was glad I was able to be a part of that."

So was Baxter. The leftfielder made a spectacular one-out catch on the warning track in the seventh, stumbling shoulder-first into the wall on Yadier Molina's screaming liner. Baxter came out of the game holding his left forearm and was diagnosed with a left shoulder contusion.

"I'm glad I had a chance to be a part of that," Baxter said. "It's an honor to be able to make the play for Johan, but ultimately it was his night.''

That's why some of Santana's teammates were on edge in the field, understanding the significance of the situation.

"I was manicuring third base like I was about to make a putt to win the Masters," Wright said. "It was one of those things where you don't want to kick a ball and have him face another batter. Pretty nerve-wracking, but the atmosphere and the excitement in this stadium tonight was crazy."

The Mets got a break in the sixth when it appeared Johnson blew a call on a ball hit by former Met Carlos Beltran, back at Citi Field for the first time since he was traded to the Giants last season. Beltran laced a ball down the third-base line that seemed to hit the chalk and would've gone for a double. But Johnson ruled it a foul ball.

"I saw the ball hitting outside the line," Johnson told a pool reporter, "just foul."

In the ninth, Matt Holliday flied out to shallow centerfield and Allen Craig sent a low liner to left that Kirk Nieuwenhuis gloved for the second out. Santana then struck out David Freese swinging on a low 3-and-2 changeup to end the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy and eliciting a message of "No-Han" on the scoreboard.

"It is great," Santana said. "When I was in spring training, we didn't even know if I was going to break camp with the team . . . To talk about a no-hitter coming into this game, no way."

Wright: Not now. Wright informed the Mets that he will not engage in any extension talk during the season . . . Josh Thole was activated off the 15-day disabled list and went 0-for-4 . . . The Padres now are the only major-league team never to throw a no-hitter.

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