The New York Mets are not going to make the playoffs this year and they may not make it next year either. But they will get back there again one day and when they do, they will look back at June 18, 2013, as the day their postseason dreams first looked realistic.
For on Tuesday, the Mets – the 25-40, third-worst-winning-percentage-in-baseball-entering-the-day Mets – not only swept a doubleheader from the first place team in their own division, they did so behind the type of outstanding young arms who have led previous turnarounds in franchise history and will be called on to do so again.
In the opener of the day-night twinbill in Atlanta, Matt Harvey took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He struck out 13 Braves while pitching into the eighth and left before allowing a run (he was charged with three after departing) as the Mets won 4-3. In the finale, rookie Zack Wheeler made his major league debut a victorious one, working around four hits and five walks to deliver six shutout innings in a 6-1 New York triumph.
Tuesday morning's New York Daily News backpage featured a cartoon of Harvey as Batman (or Matt-Man, in the always-punny tabloid vernacular) and Wheeler, swinging in from some distant place like Triple-A Las Vegas, as Boy Wonder. One can only imagine what superhero comparisons the tabs have in store for Wednesday.
Harvey’s brilliance is nothing new, of course. He struck out 11 without surrendering a run in his own big league debut last summer and was the talk of baseball in April and May as he delivered one overpowering performance after another. His win Tuesday improved his record to 6-1 and while his ERA actually went up to 2.16, he took over the NL lead in strikeouts.
Wheeler, a 23-year-old pitching in his home state, wasn’t overpowering against the Braves, but he displayed all the traits that made him the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft and Baseball America's 11th ranked prospect before the season. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and he showed impressive break on his offspeed pitches.
Most impressive of all was his poise. He walked the first hitter of the game, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons -- who promptly stole second – and issued a two-out walk to Freedie Freeman but didn’t allow a run in the first. He worked around a one-out double in the second, two walks and an error behind him in the third and harmless singles in the fourth and fifth.
In the sixth inning, with the game still scoreless, Wheeler again permitted two men to reach with just one out, but he struck out Dan Uggla on a slider and got Chris Johnson to pop out.
An Anthony Recker two-run homer in the top of the seventh proved to be all the runs the Mets would need on the night, and they tacked on four more in the eighth for good measure.
The Mets have had their moments this season – most notably a four-game, two-ballpark sweep of the Yankees just a few weeks ago – but those didn’t come with anything approaching the type of tantalizing promise for seasons to come like Tuesday night’s games did. New York is a team still littered with holes, primarily on an offense that ranks 26th in the majors in batting average. One special day won't change that. General manager Sandy Alderson, who swung the key trade with the Giants to bring Wheeler to Queens for the low, low cost of a Carlos Beltran rental two summers ago, must address an active roster that really has only three untouchable pieces: third baseman David Wright, Harvey and Wheeler. Still, as the game becomes more and more pitching-dominant, no team will be able to compete if it doesn’t have ... well, dominant pitching. Harvey has shown he is that type of pitcher. On Tuesday, Wheeler offered an early indication that he might just be, as well.