It took roughly 50 years and exactly 8,020 regular season games, but it finally happened. A New York Mets pitcher threw a no-hitter.

Johan Santana accomplished the deed Friday night with a little help from outfielder Mike Baxter's spectacular, wall-crashing, catch.

In the end, Santana overcame a lot to achieve this first in Mets history. He had to overcome 50 years of near-misses in Mets history, his own surgically repaired arm and a strict 115-pitch limit the club had imposed on him as a result.

Manager Terry Collins knew he couldn't take his pitcher out of the game while history was in the making. Santana didn't really give him a choice, telling his skipper he was going to finish the game as long as he had a chance at the no hitter.

Santana didn't have his best stuff last night. His control was iffy as he walked five batters and only 77 of his 134 pitches went for strikes. But Santana's determination and steadfastness overcame it and he managed to persevere.

It was ironic that the Mets never had a no-hitter in their first 50 years. The Mets were always a franchise built on strong starting pitching. The list of Mets hurlers that had the potential to throw a no-no is long. So many great starters went on to throw no-hitters after they left the Mets including "The Franchise," Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden and David Cone with the last two adding to the pain by doing it in Yankee pinstripes. Heck, even average pitchers like Philip Humber and Hideo Nomo threw no hitters after leaving New York.

Other pitchers threw no-hitters before joining the Mets like Kenny Rogers, Don Cardwell and Dock Ellis. Heck, Ellis even said that he threw his hitless game while high on LSD. But as a Met, Ellis was less than stellar.

It wasn't that the Mets hadn't come close. Thirty-five times in club history, a pitcher had hurled a one-hitter. Some of them even became part of the Mets hard-luck history, like Tom Seaver's "Imperfect Game" in 1969. Tom Terrific took a perfect game into the ninth inning before journeyman Jimmy Qualls, a career .223 hitter who only played in 63 career Major League games, broke up Seaver's date with destiny with one out in the ninth inning.

The Mets seemed snake bit when it came to the no-hitter and members of the organization felt it.  Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, now the skipper of the Boston Red Sox, chimed in last night, telling the Associated Press, ''I'm really happy for them. That's been an albatross over the pitching in that franchise forever, since '62. One of the best pitchers they've ever had threw it and that also gives credibility to it.''

The no-hit watch also became a thorn in the side of long-time Mets fans. Broadcaster Howie Rose kept track of how many games it had been, writing the number on the top of his scorecard before each game. The streak reached 8,019 before finally ending last night.

The very first Mets game my brother and I attended was another near miss. On July 4, 1972, Seaver again went into the ninth inning with a no-hitter, this time against the San Diego Padres and their loud, mustard yellow uniforms that screamed 1970s gaudy.  With one out in the ninth inning, Leron Lee singled to end the no hit bid. Seaver held on for a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 victory but the no-hitter evaded "The Franchise" until after he was traded to Cincinnati.

It became a dream for my brother and I to attend the first no-no in Mets history. Each time we went to a game, we would talk about it. Often, our hopes ended in the first or second inning. No matter when the first hit came, we would mark it with a shrug and an "oh-well, not tonight," and just hope the Mets would find a way to at least win the game.

While I wasn't able to be there in person, 27,069 lucky fans could say they were there when the moment finally arrived.

And so the 50-year jinx is finally over and the Mets have a no-hitter, leaving the Padres as the only team without one. It almost seems miraculous, similar to the feeling back in 1969 when the Mets shocked the world and won the World Series. Now, like then, it seems that anything is possible. And Mets fans everywhere are basking in the glory and enjoying the moment.