Carlos Beltran was honest: Sometimes he misses New York — and sometimes he doesn't.
His return to the Big Apple turned into quite a night.
Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals were no-hit by Johan Santana in an 8-0 loss to the New York Mets on Friday. It was the first no-hitter in the 51-year history of the Mets, and Beltran was involved in a disputed play that should have broken it up.
Back at Citi Field for the first time since the Mets traded him last July, Beltran hit a line drive over third base in the sixth inning that hit the foul line and should have been called fair. But third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul and the no-hitter was intact — even though a replay clearly showed a mark where the ball landed on the chalk line.
"It was in front of his face, and he called it foul. I thought it was a fair ball," Beltran said. "At the end of the day, one hit wasn't going to make a difference in the ballgame. We needed to score more runs and we didn't do that."
Johnson explained his call to a pool reporter.
"I saw the ball hitting outside the line, just foul," he said.
The umpire acknowledged that he saw the replay afterward but declined to comment.
"It's not like there's going to be an asterisk by it. That's the way the game goes," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We could tell at the time and thought it was a hit. More importantly than breaking up a no-hitter, it was a chance for us to get a man in scoring position and an opportunity to get close."
Mike Baxter then made a tremendous catch in left field to rob Yadier Molina of extra bases in the seventh. Baxter crashed into the wall, injured his shoulder and left the game.
After that, the Cardinals managed only an eighth-inning walk in their third straight loss.
Making his 11th start since missing last season following shoulder surgery, Santana (3-2) threw a career-high 134 pitches in his second consecutive shutout. Relying on a sneaky fastball and the baffling changeup that's always been his signature, he struck out eight and walked five on a windy night in New York.
Santana got a warm ovation as he headed out to the mound for the ninth inning, and the two-time Cy Young Award winner quickly retired Matt Holliday and Allen Craig on shallow fly balls as frenzied fans high-fived each other and captured video of it all on their cell phones.
With the crowd of 27,069 on its feet, World Series MVP David Freese went to a 3-2 count before his foul tip was caught by Josh Thole.
"To throw a no-hitter you've got to make some good plays and they did that, too," Freese said. "Our broken bats didn't fall and our line drives didn't carry. He threw a heck of a game."
Lucas Duda hit a three-run homer off Adam Wainwright (4-6) and drove in four runs, tying a career high. Daniel Murphy added three RBIs.
The no-hitter was part of a whirlwind return for Beltran, who had a rocky tenure in New York from 2005-11 that included several outstanding seasons and one momentous strikeout.
"I felt personally, in the years that I was healthy, I had my best years in baseball," he said.
Moments before the first pitch of a four-game series, the Mets played a 1-minute video tribute to Beltran on the big scoreboard in center field. In the dugout, he smiled and tipped his cap.
When he came to bat in the first inning, Beltran received mostly cheers from the sparse crowd, save for a handful of boos and catcalls. He shattered his bat on a foul ball and struck out against Santana, his old pal.
"I have a lot of friends here that I really miss," Beltran said.
Sitting in the St. Louis dugout hours before the game, Beltran answered questions (in two languages) from a media mob for 20 minutes. He hosted a charity event in New York on Thursday night, an off day for both teams, that was attended by Santana, Mets manager Terry Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez.
Beltran said he really enjoyed his 6½ seasons with the Mets after signing a $119 million, seven-year contract in January 2005 that brought with it the weight of lofty expectations. He only wishes he could have been healthy the entire time and helped the team win a championship.
The Mets came close in 2006, when Beltran took a called third strike with the bases loaded to end Game 7 of the NL championship series against St. Louis. Some fans in New York haven't forgiven him.
"If that's what they want to remember, that's them. I can't control that," Beltran said. "I just wish I could have done different. It didn't happen."
It was a pivotal moment for both franchises. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series that season and again last year. The Mets collapsed down the stretch in 2007 and 2008, and haven't been back to the playoffs.
With the Mets trailing 3-1 and fans on their feet at a rocking Shea Stadium, Beltran froze on a nasty curveball from Wainwright, a rookie closer in October 2006. In a fitting twist, Wainwright started Friday night for the Cardinals and Beltran was back in center field for the first time since 2010 because of injuries to teammates Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker.
Beltran, a three-time Gold Glove winner in center with the Mets, graciously moved to right before the 2011 season to ease the strain on his surgically repaired knees and make way for speedy protege Angel Pagan.
Looking toward the future and with Beltran in the final season of his deal, New York shipped him to San Francisco just a few days before last year's trade deadline for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. And that was the end of Beltran's time in New York.
"Sometimes I do miss it, sometimes I don't. Being honest," Beltran said. "I consider my time here a life experience for me."
Wheeler is throwing well at Double-A Binghamton, while Beltran is off to a great start with his new team. After signing a $26 million, two-year contract with the Cardinals in December, he began the night batting .294 with 42 RBIs and an NL-best 15 homers. He ranks among the league leaders in several categories.
"I think he's one of the most efficient players I've ever seen," Matheny said. "I think in every aspect he's been a huge part of what's becoming the makeup of this team."