The no-hitter was the first thrown against the Cardinals since Fernando Valenzuela did so in a 6-0 Dodgers win on June 29, 1990. It was the eighth time the franchise had been on the wrong end of such a feat.
"Everything came out perfect for him," said outfielder Carlos Beltran, a former teammate of Santana's. "I'm not happy about it, but at the same time, he's a good man. I'm happy for him."
"It was definitely a good effort," added Freese. "Our broken bats didn't fall and our line drives didn't carry. He threw a heck of a game and deserves it."
While Santana was unquestionably dominant against a team that entered the night leading the National League with a .281 batting average, a call by third-base umpire Adrian Johnson loomed largely, not in the outcome, but in the history of it.
Indeed, Santana's no-hitter actually did include a hit.
It simply was not ruled as such.
Jumping out of the way as Beltran scorched a line drive down the third-base line in the sixth inning, Johnson called the ball foul. While the managers from both clubs admitted to having a hard time discerning where the ball hit from their vantage points, Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo immediately contested the call.
"I saw it hitting the line," Oquendo said. "I saw it hit the white."
Replays confirmed Oquendo's view, showing chalk coming up as the ball bounced off the foul line, behind third base.
With a hit taken away, Beltran, making his first visit back to New York since being traded by the Mets, returned to the batters' box and grounded out to third. Shortly after, Oquendo continued his argument with Johnson. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny joined him.
"I know Jose doesn't just complain to complain," Matheny said. "When he says something, he means it."
Asked afterward by a pool reporter if seeing the replay changed his mind about the call, Johnson answered: "No comment."
At the time, the call represented more than the opportunity to dent the hit column. Down 2-0, it would have put a runner in scoring position and brought the potential tying run at the plate.
The Cardinals had another hit robbed an inning later, though this one legitimately so. With one out in the seventh, Yadier Molina drove a ball deep to left field. Mike Baxter made the catch on the run as he crashed into the wall. He immediately left the game with a left shoulder bruise.
"As a baseball fan, you do kind of sense that most no-hitters have a signature play like that," Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis said. "And after he made that play, it felt pretty real."
That would be the last close call Santana had. In all, he allowed five baserunners, all reaching with walks. That was part of what pushed Santana's pitch count up quickly. It sat at 107 after seven innings and at 122 after eight. His highest pitch count all year had been 108.
Mets manager Terry Collins visited Santana in the eighth, but he stuck with his left-hander, who had pitched another shutout just six days earlier. If Santana tired, the Cards' hitters hardly noticed. Santana simply countered fatigue by relying more heavily on his changeup.
"He's got that flutter effect to it to where you think it's going to sit in your wheel house and next thing you know, it's out of there," said Freese, who saw four of those changeups in his final at-bat. "He knows what he's doing."
Of the 12 pitches Santana needed to get through Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Freese in the ninth, eight were changeups.
"That's what the swing-and-misses were," Matheny said. "And it made his fastball look like 100 [mph]."
On the losing end of Friday's marquee matchup was Adam Wainwright, who, like Santana, missed the entire 2011 season due to arm troubles. That perspective provided a particular sense of appreciation from Wainwright, who has endured his ups-and-downs in his return from surgery.
"It should mean a lot for him after battling last year with the injury and being able to come back in Spring Training and find his way," Wainwright said. "I'm happy for him. I just wish he would have done it another night."
Perhaps surprising given the outcome, Wainwright was actually the sharper of the two pitchers early. While the Cardinals' offense squared up several balls with no luck, Wainwright breezed through three hitless innings to begin his night.
By the time his 6 1/3-inning start was in the books, he had allowed seven runs.
"After two innings, I really thought I was going to throw a no-hitter," Wainwright said. "I felt great tonight. I was locating, and I was definitely pretty sharp."
Two came in the fourth, which began with a grounder caroming off a base and a fly ball turning Beltran around and dropping in. A sacrifice fly and an RBI triple followed.
A three-run homer by Lucas Duda swelled New York's lead to five. Three more runs scored in the seventh, when Wainwright and reliever Sam Freeman, making his Major League debut, combined to allow three walks and two hits.
Asked afterward if he had ever faced a better mound opponent, Wainwright found it in him to grin.
"Well," he said, "how could you say no?"