You may not remember exactly where you were on the night of June 1, 2012. I sure do though. I was sitting in my family’s living room next to my dad on the edge of my seat from about 8 p.m. to just before 10 p.m.
That night marked the first and only no-hitter in New York Mets history — thrown by lefty ace Johan Santana.
As a Mets fan, it was a privilege to watch the “No-Han” game, but imagine actually being a part of it. And more so, imagine making a defensive web-gem that wound up saving the no-hitter.
Enter Mike Baxter, the Mets left fielder on that fateful night. Before even mentioning his clutch catch, it’s important to realize the journey that led Baxter to the moment he smashed into the wall at Citi Field eight years ago.
A Catholic Youth Organization product of St. Luke, Whitestone, Baxter played baseball as a short-stop for the late great coach Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood. He helped lead the Stanners to the 2002 CHSAA city championship — with the title game being played at Shea Stadium.
Growing up, Baxter loved the Mets and emulated their defensive wizard of a shortstop, Rey Ordóñez. What a coincidence that years later, it would be Baxter’s defensive heroics that are forever engrained in franchise history.
Baxter was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 2005 MLB draft and wound up making his debut with the Mets in 2011 — a total dream come true since he grew up just 10 minutes from Shea.
So fast forward to June 1, 2012. The Mets were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, and Baxter was in the lineup as the Mets leadoff hitter and left fielder to back up the masterful Santana.
Santana walked two Cardinals in the second inning, another in the fourth, and another in the fifth, so unless you were closely watching the scoreboard, you might not have realized the history in the making. The Mets were a franchise starved for a no-hitter, and Baxter began to sense the increasing adrenaline at the start of the seventh inning.
“When you get into those back three innings, you definitely know what’s at stake,” he said. “You can feel the energy growing inside of Citi [Field] that night as the game progressed. I think everyone in the park knew what was going on once we got past the sixth.”
With one out in the top of the seventh inning and the Mets up 5-0, Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina stepped to the plate. Put a nice way, Mets fans are not too fond of Molina, who delivered a crushing blow with a two-run, go-ahead homer six years prior as the Cardinals defeated the Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.
It almost seemed fitting that Molina would be the one to break up Santana’s no-hit bid. He smashed Santana’s 3-1 offering deep toward the left field wall as the entire stadium and viewers at home held their collective breath.
“When you’re taking a route in the outfield, you generally have an idea of whether the ball is catchable or not,” Baxter said. “To me, that ball off the bat was catchable.
In dramatic fashion, Baxter sprinted back to the warning track, gloved the ball and then lost his footing, which sent him hard into the wall. He hung onto the ball though for the second out. There’s an old adage in baseball that every no-hitter has at least one incredible defensive play. Baxter’s catch was certainly one, though it left him with a separated collarbone and fractured rib cartilage — injuries that would cause him to miss the next two months of the season.
Once Santana worked his way through the rest of the seventh inning unscathed, he ran down to the trainer’s room to check on Baxter — even though he was due to lead off the bottom of the inning. Baxter recalls that Santana said, “‘Great catch, Papi. It was great. Thank you.’ And then he ran back outside and finished it. We had that moment together, which was cool.” Once the final out was recorded, the entire Mets medical staff ran out on the field to celebrate.
Baxter, who watched the final out on TV, said he wasn’t in the best shape at that time to join in but did get to enjoy the post-game festivities in the clubhouse before heading to the hospital the following day.
Looking back, Baxter is grateful to have been part of such a memorable moment in Mets history. “It’s really neat,” he said. “If I were a junior at Molloy and someone says to me you’re going to get a chance to play for the Mets for three years, play pro ball for 12 years, and play in the big leagues, I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.”
For the past three seasons, Baxter has served as the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at his college alma mater, Vanderbilt University. Talk of the memorable catch never really comes up, since his players were barely 10 years old in 2012.
They may not remember the catch, but an army of diehard Mets fans — myself included — will always be indebted to the gutsy effort Baxter gave to preserve history on an early June night eight years ago.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.