Whatever, the absence of a Mets no-hitter was underscored after Niese walked the first Braves batter in the seventh inning. Freddy Freeman made the total of Mets games played without a no-hitter 7,971. And counting. No franchise has gone so long without pitching one. And, of course, the irony of it all is that the Mets have had more than their share of pitchers with no-hit stuff and about 7,971 pitchers who have thrown no-hitters with other clubs -- from Seaver to Sabes, from Candy to Coney, from Nolie to Nomo -- they've all done the deed elsewhere.
Niese had little chance of completing nine innings without a hit surrendered because of pitch count. Freeman's hit, a clean single pulled through the right side, came on his 99th pitch.
Increasingly a person of interest in the Mets' scheme, Niese was better off that way. Had he been removed after seven with the no-no intact ... Well, we all know what happens when a manager yanks a pitcher with a chance to do "nothing." See the Padres, pitcher Clay Kirby and manager Preston Gomez in 1970 and understand, their franchise is second to only the Mets in games played without a first no-no. They turned their back on their chance after eight innings.
Terry Collins said he had some thought of allowing Niese to start the eighth, if the pitcher had survived the seventh unscathed. "He probably wouldn't have gone the distance," the manager said. But a group-effort no-hitter (see the Astros' six-man no-no against the Yankees in 2003) would have eliminated one not-too-irritating zero from the Mets' resumé -- and added a more rewarding one. The Mets' relievers never had the opportunity, though. They allowed three hits, anyway, one more than Niese, in their three innings.
Someday the Mets will pitch one. Now that they've played 50 seasons plus a three-sweep of the Braves, the odds are in their favor. Aren't they? When it comes, Tom Seaver will be disappointed. He's come closest and revels in that distinction.
At least one sign suggested Sunday might be the day, Between the fifth and sixth innings, the Citi Field speakers played, John Lennon's song "Nobody Told Me."
The lyrics suggest something: Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed (most peculiar, mama)
Strange days indeed
And there were indications that the Mets had a notion of how to handle such pitching prosperity even without practical experience. Some colleagues kept their distance from Niese in the dugout between half-innings. Tradition says that is proper protocol, though Niese was willing to speak to anyone. And Lucas Duda was prepared to plead his case to the official scorer if the fly ball he lost in the bright sun of right field directly after Freeman's hit had been scored a hit. The ball in question, hit by Matt Diaz, was scored an error by Howie Karpin, a quite competent official scorer. Not everyone agreed. Duda said "He [Niese] had a one-hitter, it had to be an error."
That's being a good teammate.
But the point had been made moot, and, anyway, Collins certainly had the backbone to remove Niese. "You can't jeopardize a pitcher's arm for the sake of one game, not even for a no-hitter," he said. Moreover, the manager had some experience in such circumstances. He shared his memory.
He was managing the Dodgers' affiliate in the Class A Florida State League in 1982. His pitcher, a fella named Sid Fernandez, had allowed no hits and struck out 18 batters through eight innings. He had thrown 119 pitches.
"Al Campanis was running the Dodgers then," Collins said. "He told me the year before that Sid had thrown 150 pitches in a game. 'We can't ever have that again,' he said. 'One-[hundred] thirty is the limit no matter what.'"
Fernandez was told he had 11 pitches left before he began the ninth. He struck out the side, needing only 10.
Once Fernandez established himself as a big league pitcher, with the Mets in 1985, he became the popular clubhouse choice to fill the Mets' no-hitter void. Dwight Gooden agreed. Fernandez allowed merely 6.8513 hits per nine innings in his career. Only Ryan (6.5553) and Sandy Koufax (6.7916) have lower averages. El Sid was the proper choice.
He never came close. The Mets have their almost moments with Seaver and David Cone their nearly-maybe, perhaps-almost-almost moments with others, and now with Niese. "I really didn't come that close," he said. "There's a lot of history here. I guess, that makes it tougher."