Before yesterday, the last time Zack Wheeler had won a start was September 19, 2014, against the Atlanta Braves. The Mets won that game, 5-0. In the game, Eric Young Jr. batted leadoff for the Mets and played left field. Matt den Dekker started in center. Dilson Herrera started at second base. Eric Campbell, Anthony Recker, and Bobby Abreu all came to bat as pinch hitters. Buddy Carlyle closed the game out in the ninth, after set-up man Jeurys Familia pitched a scoreless eighth inning. It was a different time.
Last night, with a good team around him this time, Wheeler notched his first victory since that fateful September game. Similarly handed a 5-0 lead, he pitched very well into the sixth inning, not allowing a run to that point, and had a stetch where he retired 11 consecutive hitters. He got two outs in that sixth inning, but then completely ran out of gas. He loaded the bases and was starting to lose control, so Terry Collins pulled him. And in the highest-leverage situation possible in a five-run game, Collins decided to bring in a tired and unsteady Hansel Robles to replace Wheeler. Robles, who worked the two nights prior and four of the last five games, needed only one pitch to nearly erase everything Wheeler did and gave up a grand slam to Maikel Franco right out of the gate. Three of those runs were charged to Wheeler’s line, meaning that his line was significantly less excellent at 5.2 innings pitched, allowing four hits and one walk, four strikeouts, and those three earned runs which he did not give up.
Nonetheless, it was great to see Wheeler find himself after he struggled in his first start in two years last week. The velocity was there, and he had much better control of his secondaries this time around. It’ll still probably be a bumpy road with Wheeler—he’ll have his off days for sure—but he proved that the pitcher he was in 2014 is still in there somewhere, and can come out an any moment.
After Robles eventually ended the sixth inning, having no velocity, control, and looking completely overworked, Collins decided to send him back out for the seventh inning for some reason. He faced one right-handed batter, Cameron Rupp, and got him to ground out. Collins then brought in Jerry Blevins, his lefty-specialist, to face a switch-hitting Freddy Galvis. The rationale was that Galvis struggles against lefties more than righties—and he does—but he’s still not good against righties anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Plus, Blevins doesn’t need to be treated as a strict LOOGY; he can get right-handed batters out if he needs to. There really wasn’t much reason to send Robles back out there instead of going to Blevins for the full inning.
Anyway, Blevins, Fernando Salas, and Addison Reed all pitched scoreless relief and the Mets didn’t allow any more runs. Which is good, because the offense also didn’t score any more runs against the Phillies bullpen after a hot start. Yoenis Cespedes drove in the first run with an RBI double in the first inning, then Michael Conforto hit a solo home run in the third, his second home run of the year in as many starts. Asdrubal Cabrera brought in two with an RBI single in the fifth, and Cespedes his a sac fly later in that inning. The Mets were shutout after that.
The offensive star of the night was Conforto, who was the only Mets player with two hits on the night. He batted leadoff for the first time ever, and went 2-for-4 with a walk and the afforementioned dinger. He did strike out twice, but so did half the lineup—Phillies pitching struck out 13, somehow. Conforto has four hits in 10 at-bats with two walks and two homers on the year. That is an algae-sized sample, though, so it’s too bad he doesn’t have a recent track record of success and massive future value to the franchise to suggest he should get some more playing time. Oh well.
The win capped off a sweep of the Phillies in the two teams’ first meeting of the year. The Mets have now won 11 of 13 series against the Phillies since the start of 2015, which is a lot.
OTHER NEWS OF THE DAY:
Matt Harvey is apparently okay, as his hamstring tightness from Tuesday night’s game is being called a non-issue, and he is on track to make his next start against the Marlins on Sunday in Miami.
The Mets travel to Miami and the psychedelic land of neon-green walls for the first time in 2017. Robert Gsellman makes his second start of the season against Wei-Yin Chen at 7:10 p.m.
Photo credit: John Geliebter-USA Today Sports