After waiting nearly two years for this day, the New York Mets showcased the foundation of their franchise Tuesday during a day-night doubleheader against the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, providing a beacon of hope for the team’s otherwise hopeless 2013 season.
It starts with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the two flame-throwing right-handers who are being counted on to make the Mets relevant again.
During the first game on Tuesday, Harvey put together perhaps the best outing of his career, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning and leading the Mets to a 4-3 victory. Meanwhile, Wheeler, making his much-anticipated major league debut, followed that with six scoreless innings of his own in a 6-1 win.
In a season full of disappointments, the Mets needed a day like Tuesday where they could escape their suffering and envision the start of something special. Well, for one day, at least, the promise of a bright future suddenly seemed to be within grasp.
““They’re going to enjoy watching these two guys for a long time,” manager Terry Collins said on Tuesday, as reported by Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. “They’re going to be around, and they’re going to be in the same rotation. You’ve got two guys that can win some baseball games for you.”
Though the spotlight was on Wheeler – and rightfully so – Harvey stole the show in a stadium that has been a house of horror for the Mets. The 24-year-old complied a career-high 13 strikeouts, while allowing three runs on three hits and three walks. Harvey was pulled after he walked the leadoff hitter and yielded back-to-back singles to begin the eighth. The bullpen then proceeded to allow all of the runners to score, leading to three earned runs charge to Harvey’s line.
However, the box score isn’t indicative of just how well Harvey pitched. He consistently overpowered the Braves with a fastball that at one point hit 100 mph on the radar gun. In all, he threw 64 fastballs at an average of 97.15 mph, according to Brooks Baseball.
As for Wheeler, if he continues pitching the way he did Tuesday, he could challenge Harvey in the near future for the role of ace. He overwhelmed the Braves with a scorching heater of his own, surrendering just four hits and striking out seven. Moreover, despite a Braves offense that ranks third in the National League this season in OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) harassing him with baserunners in every inning, Wheeler kept his poise and managed to escape unscathed each time with a 95-98 mph fastball.
The one negative takeaway from the 23-year-old’s start was that his command, something he struggled with earlier this season at Triple-A Las Vegas, was a bit spotty. As one might expect, Wheeler had some first MLB start jitters, walking five batters while needing 60 pitches to get through the game’s first three innings. But he managed to settle down, needing just 42 pitches over the following three frames before working out of a jam in the sixth.
Wheeler demonstrated why he’s regarded as one of the most prominent pitching prospects in all of baseball. His start was nothing short of remarkable, especially when factoring in the massive buildup and hype that surrounded him.
Harvey, on the other hand, has already shed the prospect label. Throughout most of the afternoon on Tuesday, there was a feeling that he was going to complete the second no-hitter in Mets franchise history.
His attempt at history was squashed in the seventh inning, when Braves right fielder Jason Heyward hit a nubber down the first-base line that cue-balled away from Harvey and went in the books as an infield hit. Both Harvey and first baseman Lucas Duda came together, leaving the bag unoccupied. Harvey got to the ball first, and delivered an underhand toss to a base with nobody there to catch it.
Let’s make one thing very clear – the Amazin’s will likely not salvage their season in 2013, even with Wheeler teaming with Harvey to make up 40 percent of the team’s starting rotation. We know what Harvey can do, but he can only pitch once every fifth day, unfortunately. Wheeler, while tremendously gifted, still has a lot to prove before he can be put in the same class as Harvey.
But at the very least, the Mets took what could very well be a major step forward to improve their franchise’s fortunes on Tuesday. Wheeler passed his first test with flying colors, but there will be many more as he continues his maturation process. Harvey continued to do what he does – dominate opposing teams lineups.
Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore, and true Mets fan.