In an attempt to illuminate Tuesday night during Zack Wheeler's major league debut, SNY announcer Gary Cohen explained that the last time a pair of under-25 pitchers started both ends of a doubleheader, then went on to win at least 75 games each for that team, was when Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez accomplished the treat in 1986. Set the bar at 100 games, and the last duo dates back to 1969.
And collectively, I assume, Mets fans pleaded with Gary Cohen not to introduce reality into a day for Mets fans to finally, for the first time in, oh, let's just say the post-Bernie Madoff Era, to dream about the future. Tuesday was Matt Harvey/Zack Wheeler Day. And it was glorious.
There's a reason why the fan base Will Leitch observed last week is virtually catatonic, and not just because of the twin collapses in 2007 and 2008, or the losing seasons that followed. Sure, Mets fans haven't had the present for a while. But they also haven't had the future, not when the idea of ownership putting a major league product on the field has seemed like such a childish fantasy with a cursory look at their financial state.
There's no Wait 'Til Next Year without building a scenario in your head. And "Let's hope the guys we have here improve" doesn't get the hot stove lit.
By the same token, using cold logic won't allow those dreams to get very far, even with Harvey and Wheeler. Not with the group around them. Not when banking on a pair of young pitchers to stay healthy is such a precarious hope, and ownership doesn't appear to be any closer to solvency. But it is, indisputably, something. And hope doesn't need much of a foothold. Mets fans on Tuesday sat in a dank, foreclosed house. They had to close their eyes to all the disrepair, the mold, the scarring around them.
They had to look at the single room that stood ready, in move-in condition, and think of the possibilities.
That's Matt Harvey. After Harvey's performance in a 4-3 win in Game 1 of the doubleheader Tuesday against the Braves, reporters peppered Mets manager Terry Collins with questions about whether all the hype about Wheeler raised Harvey's game. And he did set a career-high in strikeouts with 13.
Harvey pitches particularly well in higher-pressure conditions. He outpitched Stephen Strasburg when the two went head-to-head. He totally shut down the Yankees. He struck out 11 in his own major league debut last year.
But Collins demurred, and he's probably right. The absurd magic of Harvey is that he always pitches well, basically. He threw seven shutout innings against the Padres at Citi Field, and almost no one saw. He threw a complete-game one-hitter against the White Sox. He's Matt Harvey, is what I'm saying.
That's the same Harvey who has four no-decisions and a loss in five starts this year when he allowed one run or fewer. And in an effort to produce a tableau to fully capture this futility around him, Jason Heyward, badly fooled, lurched forward and produced a slow roller up the first base line. Harvey, a fine fielder, raced over, picked up the ball, and fired it to … no one. Lucas Duda, first baseman of the moment, failed to cover.
On Twitter, Mets fans reacted angrily. And I don't think it was because a no-hitter was lost, though the Mets have only one, and it's been tainted a bit by the fact that shortly thereafter, the guy who threw it's arm re-exploded.
It's because seeing defensive miscues forced them to look around a little bit. Tuesday was about tunnel vision. It was about hoping the hitters and the fielders and the bullpen will all come, and in the meantime, think of the dinner parties we can someday host in this dining room!
An inning later, Harvey departed, the Mets up 4-0. Terry Collins delayed it as long as he could, sending a clearly fatigued Harvey back out to face not one, but three batters in the eighth inning. On came the relief corps, and 4-0 was suddenly 4-3. Did it matter if Harvey got the win? Did the Mets' pennant chances hang in the balance?
No. But for several innings, with Harvey gone and Wheeler yet to warm up, there was nothing to do but ... watch the Mets.
Bobby Parnell, one of the few valuable non-Harvey Mets this season (and, as a result, presumed trade bait despite being young and cost-controlled, hence catatonic fan base), came on for the multi-inning save. And it was on to Game 2.
Wheeler was all raw fastball and speed early on. He walked two in the opening inning. He threw eight of his first 23 pitches for strikes. He went 2-0 on the first five hitters. David Wright came over to tell him to calm down. Pitching coach Dan Warthen came out, presumably with the same message. And everybody was deliriously happy, like seeing a brand new kitten whirl around the darkened house, adorably destroying everything in sight. We'll clean that up, the Mets and their fans collectively said. He's so much fun! And there isn't much left to destroy, anyhow. So go nuts, Zack Wheeler!
Wheeler escaped the first without allowing a run. The rest of his evening proceeded in a similar fashion. He walked five. He struck out seven. Hitters guessed, and occasionally guessed right, on his fastball. But they also missed it repeatedly. He threw a curve that checks in around 20 mph slower, just not often for strikes. And the Mets' hitters were kind enough to their fans not to bother with much offense of their own, making the periods between Wheeler innings particularly short.
In the sixth, Wheeler faced his toughest task. A B.J. Upton single and Brian McCann walk gave the Braves first and second, one out, in a scoreless game. Up came Dan Uggla, with a swing designed to ruin major league debuts in one shot. But designed, also, to provide young pitchers with big strikeout lifts, as he ultimately did here, missing a slider from Wheeler, his 100th pitch, that simply didn't slide. The velocity differential, 90 down from routinely mid-90s with a dash of upper 90s, was enough. A pop up from Chris Johnson then ended his night. Six scoreless.
And when Anthony Recker, usually just a walking reminder that the Mets can't afford a real backup catcher, hit a two-run homer over the center-field fence, Wheeler had his lead. Ultimately, the Mets won 6-1, and Zack Wheeler is 1-0. Undefeated.
Sure, stick around for a moment longer, and you got treated to a particularly Mets kind of moment, when Scott Atchison, just back from the disabled list, injured himself on his initial warmup toss and looked headed back to said disabled list. Sure, they piled on the runs in the eighth to make it safe. That's great, Mets. For everyone stuck in 2013, it greatly increased the chances of these Mets getting to … 27-40.
Everyone still focused on Harvey and Wheeler, or Wheeler and Harvey if you preferred (sure, why not?), both still intact, both members of the rotation, both capable for one day of allowing dreams beyond punchless outputs, losing streaks and empty promises, to dream instead of who will pitch Game 1 and who will pitch Game 2, you know, someday, wasn't all that much more invested in the end of this one than they will be Collin Cowgill's next at-bat or Scott Rice's next appearance.
Tuesday wasn't about Tuesday. And whether Harvey and Wheeler are Fernandez and Gooden, Prior and Wood, or Pulsipher and Isringhausen is beside the point. It isn't about what will be. Harvey/Wheeler Day was about what might be.
It was about allowing Mets fans, a group with way too many sleepless nights hearing the phone ringing off the hook from collection agencies calling (and asking to speak to Fred Wilpon), to daydream all afternoon and evening, and go to sleep with visions of Octobers at Citi Field, for the first time in what only feels like forever.