Zack Wheeler , in his fifth major league season of actually pitching as opposed to healing, has never pitched for a Mets team that finished with a winning record. The only two good seasons during his injury-interrupted tenure were the seasons he missed with Tommy John surgery and rehab, 2015 and 2016. The Mets popped every drop of champagne they’ve had cause to spray and spill in this decade without his participation in the jubilation.
So can we at least get above .500 this season for Zack? For the rest of us, too, but especially for him?
Zack helped nudge us to within one game of break-even on Friday night, going seven innings, leaving as the losing pitcher, but magically becoming the winning pitcher when the Mets scored him a couple of runs and his successors didn’t allow the Diamondbacks any at all. It may not have been the smoothest attainment of a positive decision for a starter, but picking up Zack after leaving him behind during the playoff pushes seems the least the Mets can do — the very least. The only time Wheeler’s name came up amidst the all-too-brief exciting years was when the Mets tried to trade him and Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez .
Coincidentally those three fellows all converged at Chase Field Friday night, though only two had anything to do with the Mets’ 5-4 victory . Wilmer currently sits on the Arizona IL, modeling the strangest hoodie in that it features no shade of orange or blue, a.k.a. Wilmer colors. Zack gave Mickey Callaway desired length, like a very long snake might. He was really good for five innings, not so hot in the sixth, when Ketel Marte and Christian Walker took him deep, yet he hung in there to complete the frame and then another.
The Mets were down a run after seven, which they wouldn’t stay forever, thanks to Recidivist Carlos lining a just-fair ground-rule double toward the left field corner, driving home J.D. Davis, who himself had just pinch-hit successfully for Juan Lagares and plated Todd Frazier as the tying run. Maybe Carlos’s shot should have been a triple, given that the D’Backs ball dude instinctively fielded the ball and therefore interfered with it while it was live in foul territory. Then again, maybe it would have been called foul initially by a third base umpire had there been a third base umpire. The blue crew was working with one man down after home plate ump Jim Wolf had to depart many innings prior after getting hit by a live ball himself.
Gomez would be involved in a triple in the eighth, not catching a deep drive hit by Eduardo Escobar, but like J.D. and Carlos saved Zack, freshly activated Seth Lugo came to the rescue of Gomez and kept Escobar from scoring. In the ninth, the official task of saving would fall on the shoulders of Robert Gsellman, allowing Edwin Diaz to continue to rest up from Wednesday night’s still nearly unbelievable debacle . It should be totally unbelievable since the Mets led L.A., 8-5, heading to the ninth and Diaz is Diaz, which we were told means something, and hopefully still will. Except the Dodgers are the Dodgers, and that really means something.
Fortunately, the Diamondbacks aren’t the Dodgers and the Mets could be themselves and get away with it.
The Mets had been leading by a pleasant score of 3-1 early, thanks to Wheeler and, of course, Adeiny Hechavarria, whose two-run double brought him to within one RBI of Robinson Cano’s season total. Hechavarria seemed to think he had tied Cano by blasting a three-run homer, but he apparently forgot the center field wall at Chase Field is as high as the Grand Canyon is wide. Maybe he, like Gomez, should have at least had a triple. Maybe it was enough that he was Adeiny Hechavarria, certified season savior so far.
Without Adeiny picking up for Cano (notice who we’re referring to in friendly first-name fashion and who we feel a chilly distance from), Wheeler’s Mets wouldn’t have been a winner Friday. Without Wheeler, the Mets likely wouldn’t be nearing a winning record at all. Right about now would be a very good time to near it, grab it and keep it. The Mets have played 57 games to date. There’s a splendid little history attached to Mets teams picking their 57th game to get serious about their seasons. In three separate years, the Mets have pushed themselves to one game over .500 to stay at this very juncture of the schedule.
The 1987 Mets, who had been floundering in ways unbecoming of a defending world champion, took out their frustrations all over the Cubs, clobbering them at Wrigley, 13-2, upping their mark to 29-28. Considering the 1986 Mets had been 41-16 after 57 games, 29-28 wasn’t terribly impressive for a franchise whose radio bumpers and promotional soft drink cans implored them to “DO IT AGAIN!”. The 1987 Mets had spent the first 56 games of their year acting utterly conflicted. Did they really want to win anymore? After bottoming out at 16-20, you had to wonder.
Hindsight, however, tells us that the 57th game was decisive. Once the 1987 Mets got to 29-28, they stayed over .500 for the rest of their championship defense. Granted, it wasn’t a successful championship defense, but it could have been worse. For 56 games, it definitely was.
Three years later, the 1990 Mets were barely removed from a vexing slumber that eliminated the most successful manager they ever had from their dugout. Davey Johnson led the Mets to winning records so routinely that the alternative barely occurred to you. Yet at 20-22, Frank Cashen’s impatience overwhelmed him. Out went Johnson, in came Bud Harrelson, whose miracle pedigree was impeccable. But not even Buddy, experienced in the magic of 1969 and 1973, could work an instant abracadabra. Remaining lethargic for a spell, the 1990 Mets sagged to 21-26 on Buddy’s watch.
Then talent began to tell, Harrelson’s managing acumen began to jell and the Mets pursued their destiny in earnest. In their 57th game, they spanked the Cubs in Chicago, 9-6, and rose to 29-28. Not only would they never slip back to .500 let alone beneath it again, they were in the process of launching like few Met teams had before or have since. In a veritable blink, the 21-26 disappointments were a 48-31 juggernaut and ensured one more summer of genuine contention in Flushing.
The ’90s soon began to bear little resemblance to the ’80s at Shea, but the Mets regained legitimacy by 1997 (see, Frank, ya have to be patient in these parts). Two winning years led into 1999 with every expectation that the Mets would make it three straight and then some. Imagine every Mets-minded person’s surprise when, after 55 games, the 1999 Mets were a flailing sub-.500 enterprise. It took some doing to get there. The ’99ers were doing fine for themselves, out to a 27-20 start. Only a massive losing streak could do them in. Naturally, a massive losing streak was doing them in. With eight in a row dropped and a 27-28 mark sore-thumbing the standings, Steve Phillips abandoned all pretense of patience, offing three of Bobby Valentine’s coaches and barely hiding his drool at the thought of taking out Bobby next. Bobby dared his GM to go ahead and guillotine him if he didn’t lead the Mets to, oh, let’s say a record of 40-15 in their next 55.
Crazy Bobby was proved a prophet when the Mets went 40-15 in their next 55. The surge started with two consecutive wins, the second of them an 8-2 home throttling of Roy Halladay and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Mets weren’t yet 68-43, let alone the 97-66 they’d be en route to the postseason, but they were 29-28 and over .500 to stay.
It’s too late for the 2019 Mets to follow in the exact statistical footsteps of this trio of highly competitive predecessors. They can’t be 29-28 because they’re 28-29. But they can still get over .500 and stay over .500. The 1970 Mets poked their heads above the waterline at 30-29 and never dipped below again. The 1989 Mets embraced their eventual winning distinction at 31-30. The 1975 Mets did the same at 33-32. A bunch more Mets teams waited longer but got where they needed to go. Some succeeded earlier, which is the ideal path as it shaves angst from your consciousness and losses from your ledger. A winning record doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot but a playoff spot is pretty much impossible without a winning record. Plus the Mets sporting a winning record when all is said and done is simply preferable to the Mets being saddled with a losing record after 162 games.
You could ask Zack Wheeler which he prefers, though at this point of his big league life, he can only guess what one of those feels like.