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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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It's Electric

We begin, as we apparently sometimes do, in June 2014 in Miami.

Zack Wheeler‘s best career start remains the one he turned in against these same Marlins that June 19. (Though we really are talking laundry: Justin Bour is the lone holdover from that squad.) In that game Wheeler faced the minimum 24 batters over the first eight innings, carving up what was still Team Loria with fastballs, sliders and change-ups that all bordered on unhittable. It wasn’t a no-hitter — double plays had taken care of Casey McGehee‘s second-inning leadoff single, McGehee’s fifth-inning leadoff walk, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s single leading off the sixth — but Wheeler’s performance was as dominant as any game in which you start getting late-inning alerts and the ninth inning pops up on national TV.

The problem? The Mets were only up 1-0, and I was mired in the dank memory of Dallas Green leaving Paul Wilson in to finish up a similarly promising 2-1 win over the Cubs on a spring afternoon in 1996. With two outs in the ninth and the tying run on second, the Mets walked Mark Grace to face Sammy Sosa, who connected and turned the game into a 4-2 loss. It would be unfair to say Sosa’s home run also walked off Wilson’s career, but it requires less poetic license than I’d like.

Eighteen years later, Wheeler gave up a two-out single to Reed Johnson. Like Wilson, he was left in, and needed to retire Rafael Furcal, a Mets nemesis on too many days. But Furcal lined a fastball (arriving at 95) to center, the game was over, and the sky was the limit for 24-year-old Zack Wheeler.

Except the sky can be lower than you think. Wheeler struggled with the usual stuff young pitchers struggle with: location, consistency and mechanics. Then he blew out his UCL, needed an extra season to rehab it, and was ineffective when he finally did return. This year’s spring training wasn’t much better, and ended with Wheeler demoted. Wednesday marked the first time he took his turn in the rotation with Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, a quintet once touted as a too many aces for one hand, but which had become a full-employment act for medical professionals.

If that sounds like a lot of baggage for a spot start in April, welcome to New York.

What was most encouraging about Wheeler’s performance Wednesday night, at least to me, was that his stuff didn’t scream “electric.” Rather, Wheeler succeeded by acing the three tests he failed more often than not back when he was a wunderkind: location, consistency, and mechanics. His delivery is different, as Ron Darling noted: Wheeler now brings his hand back more sharply instead of “wrapping” or “cupping” the baseball behind his hip.

Darling said that helps turns good mechanics into muscle memory, and in earlier games he’s discussed cupping as something Harvey’s also trying to unlearn. This isn’t a new thing — Darling said he had to learn not to cup the baseball as a young hurler — so I’m curious why it’s a new thing around the Mets. Was it not detected last year? Did Dan Warthen not see it as a flaw, while Dave Eiland does? Did Warthen try to address it but found his charges wouldn’t listen?

Whatever the case, Wheeler was sent out to Las Vegas to work on his mechanics, and the early returns couldn’t have been better. But in an inverse of that 2014 game, the Mets were behind 1-0, stymied by Jarlin Garcia in his first big-league start. Stymied, as in they went the first six innings without a hit. (Parallels upon parallels: that June 2014 game was Miami starter Andrew Heaney‘s very impressive big-league debut. If you’re wondering what happened to Heaney, he was packed off to Anaheim, tore his own UCL and has struggled since returning.)

Don Mattingly removed Garcia despite his having only thrown 77 pitches, which seemed like a big mistake and sent me into a bout of cranky-ass Clint Eastwood glowering and side-eyeing. Later, Mattingly said he thought the deep counts Garcia had started running up indicated he was tiring. Defensible, though given what’s going on in Miami, it’s possible that no one noticed Mattingly has been blinking HELP ME in Morse code and he’s now communicating his distress in a new way.

The Mets, as is their wont in this so-far-charmed season, went to work in the eighth. The comeback started on a troubling note, as Tayron Guerrero drilled Kevin Plawecki in the hand with a 100 MPH fastball. With Travis d’Arnaud revealed to have a partially torn UCL — which I believe was the lone body part TdA hadn’t had trouble with — that spelled trouble. Plawecki, though sporting an impressive bruise, was able to make a fist and take a base, and two batters later Michael Conforto sent him to third with a pinch-hit double off Chris O’Grady. Adrian Gonzalez then hit for Wheeler, a lefty-lefty matchup that worked, as has pretty much everything Mickey Callaway has tried in 2018.

Gonzalez singled to center and the Mets had the lead, which they’d expand to 4-1 thanks to the heroics of Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and Todd Frazier. Throw in solid relief from Robert Gsellman (whose evil sinkers left the Marlins with thousand-yard stares), Jerry Blevins and A.J. Ramos and the Mets had completed a perfect road trip and risen to a 10-1 record.

When you’re 10-1, flaws can be convincingly labeled as beauty marks. Conforto has showed he can hit lefties, but Juan Lagares needs to play and his defense has been impeccable. Brandon Nimmo should be playing in the big leagues, but see the above problem. The Mets short-circuited an inning by being too aggressive on the basepaths, but the vast majority of the time their See an Inch Take 90 Feet philosophy has worked wonders. The Mets have a surplus of starters with one more yet to make his 2018 debut, but after a year of Tommy Milone I will refuse to call this a problem even if subjected to torture. (Which also describes a year of Tommy Milone.) Heck, the fact that there’s a worry about the catchers suggests Tomas Nido will walk off the Brewers Friday night.

It’s good to be 10-1. It’s better than good, in fact. It’s electric. Heck, as a wise old man once said, it’s amazin’.

23 comments to It’s Electric

  • Dave

    I was willing to write 2017 off for Gsellman, after a surprisingly good little sample in 2016, league caught up with him a bit, figured he’d adjust and maybe be a serviceable back of the rotation starter. Instead, he’s jaw-dropping good so far out of the pen. And I’m happy to admit that Wheeler proved my pessimism last night. Now it would be nice to see Harvey step up.

    Long season and lots can and will happen, but this sure is a nice way to start. Amazin’ indeed.

  • Why does the world seem a far better place when the Mets are playing excellent Basball? I am a devoted religious Jewish man who studies Torah, Chassidus, and Talmud; who sees the mundane physical world from a different perspective than most individuals… I see G-d in everything as a rule. But I must conclude that the Mets are a barometer of G-d’s blessing on humanity. I need to consult a Rabbinical authority for a consultation on this phenomenon…grins

  • Hard to believe these guys are doing this every freaking night, but they are. I think the unfortunate by product of the outfield problem may be Brandon Nimmo being traded by the deadline, but they might get good value for him. I’ve been rooting for him since Brooklyn so that’s a tad upsetting.

  • open the gates

    When I realized that Mattingly was taking out his pitcher after 6 innings and 77 pitches when the guy was throwing a no-hitter, I was alternating between raging against the modern enslavement to the pitch count and reminding myself not to look a gift horse in the mouth. My second instinct was obviously correct, from a Met fan standpoint, but I’m still bristling at the sacrilege. What the heck was Mattingly thinking?

    • Greg Mitchell

      It was only odd in that the guy had pitched 6 innings in relief already this year so somewhat stretched out. MAttingly might have feared that even harder to take him out if he got through 7 with no-hitter. But for reminder of several key injuries probably caused by ignoring pitch count in going for no-hitter, you need to look no further than “Santana, Johan.”

  • JoeyC

    We need a catcher. With this explosive start, and the Plawecki bruise – thankfully, not on his pitching hand – I would like to see Sandy act quickly and decisively.

  • Gil

    Donny Baseball takes out The Boar and Garcia and they lose the game. We’ll take it.

  • Andrew

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Mattingly was running an NBA team and tanking for a top draft pick.

  • Bob

    Jason/Greg–

    “Who woulda thunk it?”

    Let’s Go Mets!!

    Bob in LA–Met fan since Polo Grounds–1963

  • Michael in CT

    Adrian Gonzalez, with his sweet left-handed swing, looks like quite the excellent pick-up. I hope he sustains it. As recently as 2016 he hit .285 in 156 games with 90 RBIs. The guy has always flat-out hit and played smooth D at first a la Keith. Last year he was hurt, and written off. But, so far, he’s still got it.

  • NostraDennis

    This start is what many of us dreamed of and aspired to years ago. I’m not just talking the current crop of pitching studs, either. Used to be a gaggle of pheenoms named Pulsipher, Isringhausen and Wilson who were destined to dominate the National League the way Gl@v!ne, Smoltz and Maddux actually did.

    Stay healthy, boys, and this will be a fun ride.

  • Pete In Iowa

    The BEST part of this ridonkulous 10-1 start? Jason has already dropped the asterisk!!

    LGM!!!!!!

  • Pat

    I see from the standings that whatever happens on Friday night, that game will be the one after .909 !

  • eric1973

    Great start just proves one thing…. you can’t win ’em all! Who says you have to lose at least 54?

    This feels kinda like 2015, when the pitching staff found their groove after the Yo deal, and were then virtually unbeatable.

  • LeClerc

    Smith, Nimmo, and TJ for Realmuto?

    Just an idea.

    Even the Fish won’t bite on it.

    • 9th string catcher

      That could work if TJ is healthy. But I think they’d need a catcher in return, which might be why Nido is up here before Lobaton. They’d probably want a pitcher as well.

      How about Nido, Nimmo and a A or AA pitcher?

    • 9th string catcher

      Geez – I just took another look at him. You’d probably have to throw in Lugo and/or Gsellman. Guy looks like a stud.

      • LeClerc

        According to the Mets official website, Plawecki has a broken left hand.

        Realmuto is a very tough trade to make – if for no other reason that it’s in-division.

        The other option is Lucroy. Lucroy’s salary is three million dollars higher than Realmuto’s. Realmuto doesn’t become a free agent until 2021.

        Agon and Wilmer are holding down first base very nicely. Smith is expendable. Nimmo is a legitimate MLB outfielder – an asset to any team in need.

        In any event, we’re not going to get Molina for Chris Flexen. Sandy must be on the phone as I write…,

  • Cleon Jones

    Just stay healthy!!! We lost both catchers!!! I hope this does not continue. Lets go Mets!!!!!

  • Paul A Schwartz

    Let’s not panic folks. It’s not like we lost Johnny Bench or even John Stearns. They’re 6 for 35 this year and have thrown out literally no one. Nido and Lobaton are fine for a few weeks. Longer term we don’t want to give up the store for a minor upgrade. Lucroy would be nice but now a seller’s market. Maybe bring Rivera back cheaply if Angel’s not greedy. Don’t trade Smith Nimmo an SP or any other good prospect. At least not yet.