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Will Mets fans believe after Santana's no-hitter?
One of the New York Mets' marketing slogans at the turn of the century was simply "Believe." But such faith was in short supply among Mets fans when the team moved into Citi Field in 2009 fresh off two of the worst late-season collapses in baseball history and then endured three straight losing seasons as well as budgetary woes connected to the role of its ownership in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
This year, the Mets quickly established themselves as the type of team that is easy to root for: A largely homegrown squad fueled by solid starting pitching and a scrappy resiliency that has led to 14 comeback victories, a winning record and a spot in the thick of the playoff race even though the Mets (32-26 and 1 ½ games out of first place in the National League East through Thursday, June 7) have allowed eight more runs than they have scored.
Yet the Mets were still playing to acres of empty seats at Citi Field. The Mets ranked 12th in the National League in average home attendance through Wednesday, June 6 at 26,572 fans per game, a decrease of 1,050 fans per game — the seventh-biggest decline among the 30 MLB teams — at the 41,922-seat stadium.
What else would the Mets have to do to get people to, well, believe? Perhaps the answer was provided last Friday, June 1, when Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in franchise history.
The Mets' current ace did what predecessors such as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Pedro Martinez could not when he didn't allow a single hit by the St. Louis Cardinals in an 8-0 win at Citi Field. The no-hitter — which the Mets immediately dubbed "No-Han" — came in the Mets' 51st season and their 8,094th game, counting postseason contests, and ended what was by far the longest no-hitter drought in baseball. The Mets recorded 35 one-hitters prior to Santana's no-hitter.
The oft-anticipated gem unleashed a cathartic reaction among the 27,069 fans at Citi Field and the hundreds of thousands of fans watching or listening to the game (and who may someday declare they were actually AT the game). The New York Daily News reported Tuesday, June 5 that nearly eight percent of the television sets in the New York area (774,000 viewers) were tuned to SNY when Santana struck out David Freese to complete the no-hitter and give Mets fans the one thing they never thought they would live to see.
"I never believed it would happen," Gary Cohen, the play-by-play voice of the Mets on SNY and Channel 11 and a lifelong fan of the team, told the New York Post. "Never."
But it did, and at the very least, Santana's no-hitter gave Citi Field — a park that has all the modern amenities lacked by the Mets' previous home, Shea Stadium, but none of its spirit — its first signature moment. It might also have convinced Mets fans to climb aboard the bandwagon and support an overachieving team that just may have what it takes to contend for a playoff berth all season long.
"We're trying to establish some credibility, not just in the city but in Major League Baseball," Mets manager Terry Collins said during his pre-game press conference Saturday, June 2. "So I think what happened last night gave us credentials that we have a pretty good team, that we do have pretty good pitching.
"This really gives our team some credibility and hopefully the fanbase is much more excited and that'll help, that'll start really establishing who the New York Mets are in New York."
Santana's no-hitter came in the eighth game of a season-long 11-game homestand for the Mets, so it's too early to tell what kind of boost it will provide the team. The Mets will get their first indicator of the "No-Han" effect when they return home Friday, June 15 for a nine-game homestand against three teams — the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees — that begin play today, Friday June 8, either in first place or within a half-game of the top spot in their respective divisions.
But the Mets drew six larger-than-average crowds during their last homestand, and there was an unmistakable buzz in the air Saturday that hasn't surrounded the Mets since they were at Shea.
"I can almost feel the difference in the ballpark today compared to where we were 24 hours ago," Cohen told viewers, per the Daily News, during the Channel 11 broadcast June 2. "Just in terms of people in their seats, creating a buzz, paying attention…home-field advantage. It's something that's been missing since the ballpark has opened, If it took last night to get it going, that's a great thing."