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New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) celebrates his no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of a baseball game on Friday, June 1, 2012, at Citi Field in New York. The Mets won 8-0. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
I told him I was not coming out of the game. And he told me I was his hero. —Johan Santana

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NEW YORK — All the eyes of the 27,069 people in the stands were riveted on Johan Santana as the game progressed Friday night. Yet the focus was a little different in the Mets’ dugout.

Players stole glances at manager Terry Collins, wondering what he would do as Johan Santana left Collins’ stated pitch count of 115 in the dust, along with batter after St. Louis batter.

“We’re all saying, ‘what’s he going to do?” pitcher R.A. Dickey said of Collins. “To a man, we all agreed, you’d have to rip the ball out of our hands.”

That also was Santana’s attitude, and so Collins let him make the call. The rest is long-awaited Mets’ history.

Santana pitched the first Mets’ no-hitter in the team’s 8,020th regular-season game and 51st season of existence, fanning David Freese on a 3-2 changeup for the final out as the Mets blanked St. Louis, 8-0. Santana finished with 134 pitches, the most of his career.

“It’s an honor,” said Santana (3-2), who has rebounded from surgery on his left (throwing) shoulder that sidelined him for all of 2011 to pitch at a high level again. “It was a crazy night. … I just stayed focused.”

Santana was masterful against the highest-scoring lineup in the National League, but credit assists to Mike Baxter and Adrian Johnson.

Baxter’s circus catch against the left-field wall in the seventh robbed Yadier Molina of an extra-base hit, and third-base umpire Johnson took extra bases away from former Met Carlos Beltran by blowing a call in the sixth inning.

In the ninth, Santana retired Matt Holliday on a fly to shallow center, got Allen Craig on a pop to shallow left and Freese swinging.

Santana walked five and struck out eight. After the final out, he pumped his left fist once, then smacked it into his glove and finally hugged catcher Josh Thole. Champagne was waiting for him in the Mets’ clubhouse.

Collins, although happy, wasn’t as jubilant as the players when the game ended. And he explained why afterward.

“It’s very, very exciting for me,” Collins said, although he wasn’t smiling. “(But) in five days if his arm is hurting, I’m not going to feel very good.”

He was pitching with five days of rest, the extra day coming thanks to the Mets’ off day Thursday. Santana threw a four-hitter in a 2-0 win over San Diego on Saturday. The Padres, born in 1969, now have the ignominy of being the lone current major-league team without a no-hitter to its credit.

Collins consulted with Santana after the seventh inning, after his pitch count had climbed to 107.

“I told him in the dugout,” Collins recalled, “you have a say in what’s going on.”

Santana didn’t hesitate.

“I told him I was not coming out of the game,” Santana said, “and he told me I was his hero.”

“I just couldn’t take him out,” Collins said. “I just couldn’t do it.”

That conversation wouldn’t have happened if not for what took place in the top of the seventh. Molina, a longtime Mets’ nemesis whose two-run homer was the decisive blow in the Cardinals’ Game 7 victory over the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, lined a 3-1 pitch deep to left field. The speedy Baxter took off after it and caught up with it on the warning track, still going at full speed.

Baxter crashed into the wall standing up and held on to the ball despite falling. He stayed on the ground for awhile before finally walking off the field with trainer Ray Ramirez, who was holding Baxter’s left arm. He suffered a contusion of his left shoulder and said after the game he was sore. He will have further tests today.

“I’m glad I had a chance to be part of it,” said Baxter, a Queens native. “You’re not really worried about crashing into the wall when you’re making a play. … It’s a great night for the Mets.”

Santana called the play “amazing.”

“You look at no-hitters,” catcher Thole said, “and there’s always one play that stands out.”

Leading off the sixth, Beltran, making his first appearance at Citi Field since being traded to San Francisco last July, lined a 1-0 pitch over the third-base bag. Replays clearly showed the ball kicked up chalk, but Johnson called it foul. The part of the line where the chalk was missing still was visible when the game ended.

Third baseman David Wright said, “in real time, it’s extremely difficult” to make that call. He said he thought it was foul.

In another strange twist, the Mets battered St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (4-6) for seven runs over 6 1/3 innings. Wainwright fanned Beltran to end the 2006 National League Championship Series.

“I know what it means for the fans,” said Wright, a lifelong Mets’ fan. “I know what it means to the organization.”

And it meant a lot to Santana.

“We did this together,” he said. “It’s not just about me. We as a team made history.”

©2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

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