Zack Wheeler tossed his first career complete game Thursday while dominating the Marlins.MIAMI -- The pinnacle of excitement among a New York Mets fan base seemingly conditioned to despondency in recent years took place at Turner Field on June 18, 2013.
Matt Harvey took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves, who perpetually had tormented the Mets during the Chipper Jones era. Zack Wheeler, in his major league debut, tossed six scoreless innings in Game 2. And the Mets swept the doubleheader in what came to be dubbed “Super Tuesday.”
One year and one day later, Harvey was visiting his teammates at Marlins Park, chatting up Jose Fernandez pregame as both rehab from Tommy John surgery.
And Wheeler, anointed the organization’s top prospect after being heisted from the San Francisco Giants for rental Carlos Beltran, took the mound with a 2-7 record and 4.38 ERA and growing -- yet unwarranted -- comparisons to first-round flameout Mike Pelfrey.
Wheeler proceeded to produce the best game of his career -- a dazzling, 111-pitch, three-hit shutout as the Mets beat the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Thursday in heralded prospect Andrew Heaney’s major league debut opposite him.
“I still had plenty,” Wheeler professed after logging the first complete game of his major league career.
Said manager Terry Collins: “He showed you tonight exactly what we’ve been talking about all along. ... It was his night. That’s why I just said, ‘I’m going to run him back out there. I don’t care what his pitch count is. He deserves it. He’s earned it.’”
Wheeler nearly became the first pitcher in franchise history to face 27 batters in a nine-inning shutout, but he surrendered a two-out single in the ninth to Mets nemesis Reed Johnson. Wheeler had been unaware he was bidding to face the minimum until reliever Dana Eveland told him after the gem.
Earlier, Wheeler surrendered a leadoff baserunner three times -- on two singles and a walk. Three times that baserunner was erased with a double play.
Wheeler’s previous career high had been seven innings, done three times last season.
He could not recall ever pitching nine innings. He noted his East Paulding (Ga.) High School games were only seven innings.
Fortunately, his pitching was better than his memory Thursday. While pitching for Double-A Binghamton, Wheeler tossed a six-hit shutout against Erie, a Detroit Tigers affiliate, on July 14, 2012.
With Thursday’s gem, the 24-year-old Wheeler became the youngest Mets pitcher to throw a 1-0 shutout since Dwight Gooden in 1985, at age 20, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The last 1-0 Mets win came Sept. 25, 2013, at Cincinnati, when Daisuke Matsuzaka, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins combined on the feat. The last complete-game 1-0 win was tossed by R.A. Dickey against Philadelphia on Aug. 13, 2010.
No Met had thrown a nine-inning, 1-0 road shutout since Al Leiter at Philadelphia in 2002.
“I know I can do it every time out. I know I have the stuff,” Wheeler said. “It finally feels good to go out and do it and be efficient with my pitches and get ahead of guys.”
Said David Wright: “He’s got the stuff. With him, it’s just a matter of pounding the strike zone, throwing all of his pitches for strikes, not falling behind and just having to throw fastballs. Because I don’t care how hard you throw in this league, it’s going to get hit if they know it’s coming, if they know you can’t throw other pitches for strikes.”
Wright, seemingly heating up after a dreadful 12-game stretch in which he went 2-for-39, produced the lone run with a first-inning homer against Heaney, the top-rated prospect in the Marlins organization and, perhaps, the top left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball.
“I just remember throwing a fastball right down the middle and he hit it really far,” Heaney said.
Wright wished the offensively challenged Mets could have provided Wheeler more support, especially given the Mets’ rich history of walk-off losses in Miami.
New York Mets
“We’ve had a lot of those games here that have come back and kind of bit us,” Wright said. “We couldn’t get him any more, but thankfully he didn’t need any more. He was fantastic today -- throwing strikes, keeping his pitch count down.
“In some of those other starts, where he’s not throwing strikes and kind of spraying the zone, Terry might think to hit for him in the seventh or whatever inning it was. And he had the confidence in Zack to finish the game. Zack earned that. It was good to see.”
Wheeler suggested he was inspired watching Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter late the previous night on television after the Mets arrived in Miami from St. Louis.
Collins had been telling the story pregame Thursday about how, during the Los Angeles Dodgers' visit to Citi Field in May, a curious Kershaw asked Collins' permission to watch Wheeler’s bullpen session. Wheeler never spotted Kershaw observing, though.
Wheeler has found his most success this season against the Marlins. In three starts, he has allowed one run in 21 innings for a 0.43 ERA. He has a 5.05 ERA against the rest of baseball in 2014.
“I don’t know what it is,” Wheeler said. “They have some good hitters over there.”
Wheeler rebounded from a pair of rocky starts. In his previous two outings, he allowed a combined eight runs on 12 hits and five walks in 8 2/3 innings against San Francisco and San Diego.
“He didn’t miss over the plate much,” Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “He was really good with locating his pitches off the plate. [He] threw a lot of fastballs, which we expected. But he didn’t leave anything over the plate. You’ve got to tip your cap to a guy who pitched a great game.”
Said Wheeler: “I made a few mistakes, but sometimes they cost you, sometimes they don’t. Today they didn’t. I was around the strike zone and getting ahead of guys. It’s a lot easier to pitch when you get ahead of guys and attack them.”
When Casey McGehee had a leadoff single in the second, ensuing batter Garrett Jones lined out to first baseman Eric Campbell and McGehee was doubled off. After Wheeler issued a leadoff walk to McGehee in the fifth, Marcell Ozuna ultimately grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. An inning later, after Saltalamacchia’s leadoff single, Adeiny Hechavarria grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
Wheeler had faced 26 batters through 8 2/3 innings.
“I just felt it tonight,” Wheeler said. “I was just attacking the guys.”
Wheeler said he closely monitored the debuting Heaney, who limited the Mets to the Wright solo homer in six innings in his debut.
“I was sitting on the bench in between innings and stuff just watching him, knowing that I was there not too long ago and knowing how he felt,” Wheeler said. “He has a good arm. He’s going to do well.”
Wheeler suggested it feels far shorter than a year and a day since his major league debut.
“It’s flown by,” he said. “I’ve had my ups and downs. And hopefully, we’ll go from here.”
His biggest takeaway with a year of major league experience under his belt?
“Basically, not trying to overthrow is the big thing,” Wheeler said. “... I want to try to get ahead in the count. Some days I don’t. Some days I do. I’ve always had that mindset.”