Matt Harvey (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
Zack Wheeler was about to throw his 100th pitch of the night. There were two guys on base with one out in the sixth inning of a scoreless game. Dan Uggla was up and it was a pivotal moment in Wheeler’s major league debut.
Before we talk about how that ended for Wheeler and the New York Mets, let’s take a step back. This was not just any old major league debut. The Mets and their fans had been waiting for this moment for 23 months.
From the moment Wheeler was acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran this debut was anticipated, discussed, analyzed, and scrutinized. Yes Wheeler was a highly regarded prospect who was taken sixth overall in the 2009 draft, but that does not tell the whole story. You see, the right hander throws in the upper 90’s and that is life as a top prospect for a New York baseball team.
The fact that the Mets are in a clear rebuilding mode just makes the fan base yearn that much more for prospects like Wheeler to become successful major leaguers. And Matt Harvey making his major league debut last season just added to the excitement level. In 10 starts Harvey was 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings.
While that is certainly a tough act to follow, it was just a warm up act for for Harvey. Going into his 15th start of the season Tuesday afternoon in Atlanta, Harvey was dominating opposing hitters with a 2.04 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 97 innings. The only knock on Harvey was his 5-1 record, but that is just a result of poor run support as the Mets are mediocre at best.
Harvey is the perfect example of the impact one starting pitcher can have on a franchise. The Mets are at their lowest point right now, but Harvey provides hope. Regardless of their struggles, every fifth day there is a chance for victory. You can sense the general aura around the team begin to change as a Harvey start gets closer. That is the impact an ace can have on your franchise.
The problem for most teams, is that they do not have one of these pitchers. They are valuable commodities in baseball these days. As the Giants have proved with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, it all starts with the pitching. If your team is smartly constructed around high quality starting pitching, winning a championship is not out of the question.
That is why every Harvey start has become an event for the Mets. And he has certainly not disappointed as on a few occasions already this year Harvey has flirted with perfection and no hitters. So it is understandable that the same buzz would be abound for the first start of Wheeler’s major league career in Atlanta Tuesday night.
On their own, each of these starts are appointment viewing. And then when you combine a Harvey start with Wheeler’s debut like what happened on Tuesday, it really is a big deal. Huge. Monumental. A day that could truly change the fortunes and dictate the future of a franchise. The future of the Mets was on full display in a day night double header against the Braves. To say that expectations were surpassed would be an understatement.
While he ultimately shut the Braves out over six innings, it was not smooth sailing for Wheeler. Wheeler allowed four hits and five walks which meant that he had some long innings of over 20 pitches, but he was also able to escape trouble unscathed. There were also a few innings where Wheeler was able to cruise through with little resistance.
But as he was set to throw his 100th pitch of the night, the game could have gotten ugly for Wheeler and the Mets. Instead he showed why he is held in such high regard and he struck out Dan Uggla for his seventh strikeout of the night. Chris Johnson then weakly popped out to Daniel Murphy at second base and Wheeler’s work was done for the night.
For as good as Wheeler did in his debut, it was not even his best work. It was clear that throughout the game, Wheeler did not consistently have his off speed pitches working. However it did not matter as no Brave crossed the plate and Wheeler earned a win in his major league debut.
Even though Wheeler dazzled the Braves, Harvey was better. And that is crazy. Crazy to think that a debut outing on the road that consisted of six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts could be topped. But for the first six innings of Harvey’s start that was the case.
Until he gave up an infield single to Jason Heyward to lead off the seventh inning, Harvey held the Braves hitless. Ultimately he was kept in the game for one inning too long so he was charged with three earned runs thanks to loading the bases with no outs in the eighth innings, but Harvey was dominate.
As if not to be overshadowed by Wheeler, Harvey struck out 13 and came close to making history.
The Mets have been scuffling, but for at least one day it was all forgotten. Harvey and Wheeler together are showing that the future is bright.
One doubleheader. Two aces. Two wins. And this is just the beginning.