Friday, June 20, 2014

What You Were Looking For

After several weeks of up-and-down starts from Zack Wheeler, the optimism that he gave cause for last season seemed to be waning a bit, as his star appeared to be waning from the lofty level of Jerry Koosman or Ron Darling down to Paul Wilson or Bobby Jones. Moments of brilliance had mostly given way to a series of starts where it appeared that Wheeler's greatest opponent was himself, as he sweat his way through 4- and 5-inning efforts where he ran too many deep counts, threw too many pitches and ended up gassing himself. Even if his results weren't ugly—and sometimes they were pretty ugly—his record stood at a disappointing 2-7, a result of his inconsistency just as much as his lack of run support, and his other numbers not befitting what we'd hoped.

But, Thursday night in Miami, Wheeler gave everyone that little bit of hope back by spinning a masterful 3-hit Shutout with all of 1 run to work with, courtesy of a 1st inning David Wright Home Run. That was all he got. But he ran with it, keeping the Mickey Mouse Marlins in check with a dazzling array of sliders and curveballs to go with his usual heat and finally, the results lived up to the potential as Wheeler earned his first career CGShO, a year and a day after his much-ballyhooed Major League debut.

It's easy, given that Wheeler, at 24 years old and a veteran of 366 days in the Major Leagues, to say that this particular start might have been the good one amid a string of inconsistencies, and certainly Wheeler could just as easily slip back into his bad habits in subsequent starts. But if you're looking for things to hang your hat on from this particular outing, there are certainly a spate of good things to take away from this game.

For one, Wheeler has clearly adopted the Mickey Mouse Marlins as the team that he consistently owns. This is now the 3rd outing this season he's had against them, and each time, he's basically mowed them down. Usually every pitcher has one team that just gets him every time, and another that he always gets, and it seems that Wheeler clearly gets the Marlins, which is nice, because it's about damn time one of the Mets pitchers just pimp-slaps those guys and puts them in their rightful place as MLB's dog.

More important, though, was the fact that Wheeler was given the opportunity to finish what he started. After 8 innings, Wheeler had (and I'm completely estimating here) about 98 pitches under his belt for the night. Terry Collins, when he's not busy trying to be innovative and experimental, has often yanked his starter at such a number, just because that's the vibe he got, I guess. But Thursday, he let Wheeler finish, and he should have let him finish. I know that after Reed Johnson reached Wheeler for a 2-out single, pretty much every Mets fan out there had that vision of Rafael Furcal lining an RBI triple into the corner to tie the game and send the game along to its proper place as a 15-inning bloodbath where the Mets strand 27 men on base and lose on a 40-foot scratch single by Garrett Jones, but for whatever reason, I felt calm. I may have been silently screaming "STAY IN YOUR SEAT, TERRY" at the TV, but I was confident Wheeler would get Furcal out. And, sure enough, he did, in spite of the fact that his line drive to center looked awfully hairy off the bat, it landed in the right place—Chris Young's glove, for the game's final out. Given an opportunity to finish what he'd started, Wheeler proved up to the task. When it seemed like there was no way, particularly given the lousy karma surrounding the team, that he would close out the Marlins, he did, and with that created all sorts of good vibes for once.

It's an oft-recycled comment around these parts, but maybe, just maybe, this is something that can be built upon. One step at a time. Hopefully we'll see more starts like this down the remainder of the season.

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