Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mets' Zack Wheeler Follows Matt Harvey's Near No-Hitter with Gem in Major League Debut, Beats Braves

Mets' Zack Wheeler Follows Matt Harvey's Near No-Hitter with Gem in Major League Debut, Beats Braves

With his parents sitting behind home plate, along with former Braves great Chipper Jones, Wheeler stepped into the spotlight that Harvey has embraced and had to shake off some obvious early nerves.

By Kristie Ackert

Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 10:40 p.m.; updated Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 1:59 a.m.

New York Daily News

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Zack Wheeler has plenty of reasons to smile as he goes six shutout innings in his Big Legue [sic] debut with the Mets and earns the win in Atlanta. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)



ATLANTA — In the offseason, it was just a promise that Sandy Alderson was selling to David Wright.

The young power arms of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler would help turn around the Mets. Wright bought into it, re-upping with the team. Tuesday night he was rewarded as the young aces gave Wright and the struggling franchise a glimpse into a brighter future.

Wheeler threw six scoreless innings to win his major-league debut as the Mets beat the Braves, 6-1, in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader at Turner Field. That was the encore to Harvey throwing six no-hit innings in the matinee and the Mets holding on for a 4-3 win.


In his much anticipated debut, Wheeler doesn't disappoint (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)


It was the first time the Mets (27-40) had won back-to-back games since they swept the Yankees in the Subway Series last month. It was the first time the Mets swept the Braves (42-30) in a double-dip in Atlanta since 1987 — three years before Wheeler was born.

"That's a formidable two arms, that hopefully develop into a 1-A and a 1-B," said Wright, who collected his 1,500th career hit in the nightcap. "Obviously just like every Mets fan, I was eager to see what all the hype was about. It gives you a good glimpse possibly (into) what could be in the very near future."

Wheeler's performance was something to get excited about, and it earned him a beer shower as his teammates mobbed him on the field during a post-game interview. Not only did he maintain control of his fastball, which was hitting the mid-90s all night, he showed some grit battling through some jams. "I went into it knowing that I am good enough to be up here obviously," said Wheeler, who held the Braves to four hits, struck out seven and walked five in six innings. "Once I settled down, I was ready to go."

The first battle was with his nerves. Making his major-league debut less than an hour away from where he starred at East Paulding High School, Wheeler had his parents sitting behind home plate next to former Braves great Chipper Jones and a large contingent of friends and family cheering loudly from behind the Mets dugout.


Matt Harvey nearly throws a no-hitter in Game 1 of the doubleheader. (Todd Kirkland/AP)



The jitters showed.

He walked his first batter, Andrelton Simmons on five pitches. He fell behind 2-0 on his second batter, Jason Heyward, before Wright jogged over and chatted with him, under the guise of cleaning his spikes. Wheeler struck out Heyward on a 97-mph fastball, for his first major-league K.

He got Justin Upton to ground out to third before walking Freddie Freeman, who won Monday night's game with a two-run homer. After Wheeler fell behind B.J. Upton, pitching coach Dan Warthen trotted out, 20 pitches into the righty's big-league career, to settle him down. Wheeler, the Giants' first-round pick in 2009 who came to the Mets two years ago in a trade for Carlos Beltran, got out of the inning when B.J. Upton grounded into a force out at third.


Wheeler follows Matt Harvey's act with a stellar performance of his own. (Todd Kirkland/AP)



"Settle down, you got this. You are better than them," is what Wheeler said Wright told him. "He did the same thing in spring training. It definitely calmed me down a little bit."

Then Wheeler had to battle through a tough inning in the sixth. He gave up a one-out single to B.J. Upton and then walked Brian McCann before facing Dan Uggla. The Braves second baseman had doubled off Wheeler in the second for Atlanta's first hit. Wheeler went right after him and struck him out. He ended his night by getting Chris Johnson to pop out to second.

"We knew it was going to be his last inning. He was gonna get some people out, gonna face a couple more guys... Thought it was really important for him to get through a big inning, to battle through a big inning," Terry Collins said. "Even that late in the game I wanted him to get through a big inning, because that is what stars do."

Wheeler realized it was a big moment for him. He pounded his fist into his glove and ran into the dugout.

There, he was greeted by Harvey, the only other man in the ballpark Tuesday who could understand what it was like to make his debut with the expectations of a franchise weighing on him.

"It's was kind of like this last year for me," said Harvey, who struck out a career-high 13 Tuesday. "When I came up, there was 'savior' tag and stuff like that. (It's) not even possible — it's baseball. You can't have one guy take over an entire team, you need all nine guys at one time. He did a great job today. And it's gonna be nice to have him as part of this and in the rotation."

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