All in all, we can agree, Super Tuesday went pretty well.
Matt Harvey, facing the odd circumstance of his start being the undercard, reminded us who’s the ace around here, absolutely dismantling the Braves with everything in his arsenal. And if you didn’t see it coming, you weren’t paying attention — just ask Jason Heyward, who heard a 100 MPH fastball go by in the first inning and no doubt knew he and his teammates were in for a tough day. Harvey made his monthly run at a no-hitter, which came unraveled on a flukey play in the seventh that was part Harvey’s fault, part Lucas Duda’s and part just bad luck. He then tired in the tropical heat, and some bad defense and relief left him with a pitching line — 3 ER over 7 IP — that in no way reflected how ridiculously dominant he was.
The nightcap was the debut of Zack Wheeler, our first ’90s-born Met, and he looked pretty much like a young power pitcher making his first big-league start typically looks — he was impressive and he was also wild, struggling to control his breaking stuff. But we can chalk some of that up to inexperience and some of it to nerves — Wheeler grew up just a short trip from Atlanta, where he was a Braves fan until remaking that part of his biography with a bit of fan-ambassador sleight of hand.
Emily said Wheeler reminded her a bit of Dennis Cook, the half-deaf, all-irascible reliever of a previous era, and I see that — Wheeler could easily play the younger Cook in some kind of origin story, down to the silly chin hair. His final line — 6 IP, 0 ER, 4 H — looked better than Harvey’s but wasn’t, but I mean that by way of observation, not dismissal. Though Wheeler’s complementary pitches weren’t much in evidence, his fastball sure was — it sat between 96 and 98, which is a helluva place to sit, and had befuddling natural movement on top of that. Furthermore, Wheeler’s long, lanky delivery looks efficient, repeatable and mechanically sound. Wheeler got away with a few sliders that didn’t do what they were supposed to, but that’s a privilege that comes with being a power pitcher with a thunderbolt fastball.
Wheeler looked like he was getting a typical Mets baptism, receiving handshakes in the dugout with the score still knotted at zero. But before Scott Atchison could provisionally take over (he did something bad to his groin during warmups and yielded to Brandon Lyon), Josh Satin singled and Anthony Recker bashed a Paul Maholm pitch over the center-field fence. Suddenly Wheeler was up 2-0 and in line for the win, which became all but assured when the Braves started walking people and kicking the ball around the stadium, highlighted by one farcical sequence in which they all but carried Marlon Byrd around the bases. Wheeler walked off a 6-1 winner, receiving a beer shower by way of initiation, and a very successful day had come to an end.
(Plus David Wright collected his 1,500th career hit. He’s 30 years old. We should all do the math, think about Cooperstown — and appreciate him more.)
Given this season’s rather sparse delights, it would be a kindness to stop right here. The Mets swept the Braves for the first time in Atlanta since ’87, and Wheeler won despite the worrisome presence of Chipper Jones himself next to his parents in the stands. No really, they did and he did. And it was awesome.
But I can’t help remembering that the Mets played not two games against the Braves over the course of 24 hours, but three. And in that first game Dillon Gee was as dominant, in his own way, as the prodigies celebrated hours later. Only Gee missed his location on a slider to Freddie Freeman with one on and one out in the ninth and the Mets up 1-0. It was Gee’s 101st pitch and his last — he was last seen trudging across the third-base line as Freeman prepared to vanish into the mob of happy Braves awaiting him in Walk-Off Land.
If Gee had been up 3-0 or 4-0, Freeman’s blast would have been an oh-well sign that Bobby Parnell needed to finish up instead of a disastrous bolt from the blue. But 1-0 leads are more along the lines of what the Mets typically provide their starters. Harvey won today to run his record to 6-1, but on April 19 — two months ago — he was 4-0. Between then and today, here’s how many runs the Mets had scored for Harvey when he was taken out of his starts: 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 0, 6, 1, 0. Somehow, starved of support, Harvey was 1-1 in those starts and the Mets were 4-6. Jonathon Niese, Shaun Marcum and Jeremy Hefner can all tell similar stories of woe.
The Mets’ starting pitching is pretty good — it’s easy to envision Harvey, Wheeler, Niese and Gee maturing into a truly formidable starting quartet, with arms such as Rafael Montero, Hansel Robles, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and Noah Syndergaard possible fifth starters. (And don’t forget the unassuming but effective Hefner.)
But pitching’s only half the battle, and the other half’s gone pretty dreadfully: The Mets’ offense consists of Wright, Daniel Murphy, a short-term answer in Byrd, and little else.
It’s not crazy to imagine things having gone differently. In some better parallel universe, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada and Duda all made strides this year, while Travis d’Arnaud stayed on the field and showed himself ready to make his own major-league debut. That Mets lineup would have six respectable bats, a nice Hairstonesque find in Byrd, and we’d be writing passionate posts about center field, debating the merits of Juan Lagares or Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
But we don’t live in that universe. In this one Duda is an enigma, Davis and Tejada have flopped, and d’Arnaud only just got cleared to start running again. Wheeler will soon find that the Mets aren’t given to six-run outbursts. And there will be too many no-decisions and teeny margins for error and too much disappointment. Harvey is a treasure, and things went very well for Wheeler the first time out. But until there’s a lineup worthy of their talents, there will be too many nights that end like Gee’s — with a trudge to the showers and an appointment in front of one’s locker, answering the same questions everyone’s tired of asking and answering.