Johan Santana Rides Changeup to No-Hitter

Long after Johan Santana retires, memories of his changeup will delight fans and haunt opponents. It’s only fitting that Santana’s changeup frustrated Cardinals hitters from wire to wire in his no-hitter Friday night, dominating from the first inning to the last. Santana went to his signature pitch 38 times out of his 3 total offerings, going for 24 strikes, nine whiffs, and recording nine of his 27 outs.

It’s only fitting. Although his injuries may make a Hall of Fame bid difficult, Santana’s changeup is no doubt a hall-of-fame caliber pitch. Santana is the career leader in changeup pitch value since BIS began tracking the data in 2002 at 133.4 runs saved, and his changeup saves an average of 2.11 runs per 100 times thrown. The only pitcher who throws his changeup so often to even come close is Cole Hamels, at 2.02.

Numbers don’t to justice to this caliber of a pitch, though — let’s relive six of the best changeups on the night that made history for both Santana and the New York Mets:


Batter: Carlos Beltran
First inning, one out, 1-2 count

Santana set Beltran up with three fastballs and a slider, getting strike two on a fouled-off inside fastball before dropping this changeup right on the corner. The preceding pitch came in at 88.7 MPH; Beltran swung right through this 77.7 MPH beauty.


Batter: Matt Holliday
Sixth inning, one out, 3-2 count

Santana attacked Holliday with the changeup all at-bat, getting all three strikes with it and throwing it four times in total. Holliday fouled through one right down the middle of the plate the previous pitch; Santana threw this one at 77.4 MPH and went up in he zone — by far the highest in the entire at-bat — and perhaps the location was enough to surprise Holliday. Of all the pitches he saw in the at-bat, Holliday probably wants this one back the most.


Batter: Matt Holliday
Ninth inning, 0 out, 0-0 count

It would be remiss if we didn’t highlight Santana’s ninth inning, an incredible performance by a pitcher dipping into his deepest reserves as he passed the 120 and eventually 130 pitch mark. Santana really leaned on the changeup in the ninth, as this was just the first of eight changeups Santana threw in the inning out of 12 total pitches. An audible gasp emitted from Citi Field as Holliday’s bat broke, but the fly ball ended up an easy, harmless out in Andres Torres’s glove.


Batter: Allen Craig
Ninth inning, 1 out, 2-1 count

Most of Santana’s damage with the changeup was done on the inner-half to righties. Not so against Craig. First, on a 1-0 pitch, Santana drew a swinging strike on the outside corner. After a slider missed roughly a foot above the strike zone, Santana came back with this pitch to bring the count to 2-2. All of which led to…


Batter: Allen Craig
Ninth inning, 1 out, 2-2 count

By moving back inside just that little bit — about six inches, according to PITCHf/x — Santana sped up Craig’s bat enough to induce a lazy flyout to left field with just a 77.5 MPH pitch. The beauty of the changeup — particularly the way Santana throws it — is the ugly swings and ugly contact it can induce despite speeds most people see in their high school leagues.


Batter: David Freese
Ninth inning, 2 out, 2-2 count

If Santana was going to be beaten, it was with his changeup. Four of the six pitches in the at-bat were changeups, and the two fastballs were nibbling pitches, both of which Freese took. Santana left one up on the pitch before, but Freese was only able to foul it back for strike two. Santana wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, getting the final strike as his 133rd pitch dove beneath the strike zone and the helpless wave of Freese’s bat.

That final pitch makes an excellent lasting image for the night and for Santana’s career as a whole. Santana’s changeup ruled the night and puts a stamp all his own on one of the New York Mets’ greatest moments.

Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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10 years ago

Would love to see an article assessing his HOF credentials.