Paulding County’s Zack Wheeler won his big league debut Tuesday night, helping the Mets sweep their doubleheader in Atlanta.
Associated Press photo
ATLANTA — After a long day at Turner Field, the future suddenly looks a lot brighter for the New York Mets.
Just imagine Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler at the top of the rotation for years to come.
“I hope people saw this,” said manager Terry Collins, no doubt referring to New York’s long-suffering NL fans. “Certainly they’re going to enjoy watching these two guys for a long time. They’re going to be around.”
Wheeler lived up the hype in his major league debut, pitching six scoreless innings to lead the Mets to a 6-1 victory over the first-place Atlanta Braves and a doubleheader sweep on Tuesday night.
In the opener, Harvey didn’t allow a hit until the seventh and struck out a career-high 13 as New York held off the Braves 4-3.
“I had some jitters going at first,” said Wheeler, who went back out to sign autographs in his full uniform after the game. “Then I settled down a little bit, probably the fourth or fifth inning I think it was, found a rhythm, settled down, and I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes.”
Wheeler gave up only four hits and struck out seven while consistently reaching the upper 90s on the radar gun. He struggled a bit with his control, walking five, but got out of every jam.
The performance was especially sweet since it came not far from where Wheeler grew up and came to prominence as a high school star at East Paulding High School in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, before going in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft.
He was cheered on by dozens of family and friends, who roared loudly from their seats behind the Mets’ dugout. Also watching from a second-row seat behind home plate was former Braves star Chipper Jones, who sat with the young pitcher’s parents. Jones and Wheeler have the same agent.
“It was definitely an experience,” Wheeler said.
He was shaky in the first, walking two while throwing 23 pitches — only eight for strikes. Catcher Anthony Recker strolled to the mound to offer encouragement, and pitching coach Dan Warthen trotted out when Wheeler overthrew a pitch to B.J. Upton, the ball sailing far out of the strike zone. Third baseman David Wright also came over to offer some advice.
“You’ve got this,” he told Wheeler. “You’re better than them.”
Upton grounded out to end the threat, and the 23-year-old right-hander — the first child of the 1990s to play for the Mets — came back the next inning to strike out the side.
Recker, hitting just .158 coming into the game, broke up the scoreless duel between Wheeler and Paul Maholm (7-6) in the seventh, crushing his second homer of the season over the center-field wall to put the Mets ahead 2-0.
The Braves responded with a run of their own in the bottom half on Justin Upton’s sacrifice fly against Brandon Lyon.
But New York broke it open with a four-run eighth against Anthony Varvaro, taking advantage of some shaky defense. The Braves made two errors on one play when Varvaro’s pickoff throw to second base was low, skidding into center field, and B.J. Upton let it slide under his glove while racing into back up the play. Former Sprayberry High School star Marlon Byrd came all the way around to score by the time Upton retrieved the ball.
Juan Lagares added an RBI single and Omar Quintanilla finished off the Braves with a two-run hit.
It was a bruising day for the older Upton. In the fifth, B.J. collided with Justin after catching a fly ball to left-center. Both were knocked to the ground but weren’t hurt. B.J. gave his sibling a playful shove on their way back to the dugout. No one was laughing when it was over.
“It’s just been a rough last 24 hours,” B.J. Upton said.
Harvey (6-1) fanned six in a row at one point and didn’t allow a hit until Jason Heyward’s fluke infield single leading off the seventh. The right-hander tired in the eighth as the Braves tried to rally for the second straight game.
Trailing 4-0, Atlanta scored three runs and had the bases loaded before Bobby Parnell, the fourth Mets pitcher of the inning, fanned Chris Johnson to end the threat. Parnell earned his 10th save with a scoreless ninth.
John Buck homered for the Mets.
“Certain days you wake up and you feel good and you can let it go,” Harvey said. “(Tuesday) was one of those days.”
The Mets had scored only 18 runs in Harvey’s previous 10 starts while he was in the game. Largely because of that, he had eight no-decisions in a stretch of nine appearances before a hard-luck 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in his last outing, snapping a stretch of 14 consecutive starts without a loss dating to his final appearance of 2012.
“He has electric stuff,” Atlanta’s Dan Uggla said. “He was throwing everything for strikes on both sides of the plate.”
Atlanta opened the five-game series with its 21st comeback win of the season, a rain-delayed 2-1 victory that ended at 1:22 a.m. — less than 12 hours before the start of the start of the day-night doubleheader.
Dillon Gee took a 1-0 lead to the ninth, but Freddie Freeman won it for the Braves with a two-run homer. Only Kansas City has more come-from-behind victories than the Braves.
But the Mets erased the memory of that stunning loss behind two of baseball’s most dynamic young pitchers.
The Braves didn’t come close to a hit off Harvey through six innings, their only baserunners on a pair of walks in the third. Finally, Heyward reached safely on perhaps the weakest ball hit off the New York starter all day — a slow dribbler up the first-base line.
Harvey came off the mound to field it and flipped to first base, but there was no one there to catch it. Lucas Duda, making just his second start of the season at first, charged in and left the bag uncovered.
New York padded its lead with two runs in the eighth, just enough to hold off the Braves. In the bottom half, Gerald Laird walked, Uggla reached on a bad-hop single and Andrelton Simmons knocked out Harvey with Atlanta’s first clean hit, a sharp single between shortstop and third base.
Jordan Schafer singled off LaTroy Hawkins to bring in two runs, and Heyward’s run-scoring double off Scott Rice made it 4-3. After Rice intentionally walked Freeman to load the bases, Parnell came on to strike out Johnson.
Atlanta rookie Alex Wood (0-1) lost in his first career start, lasting only three innings.
Harvey eclipsed his previous career high of 12 strikeouts in a May 7 game against the Chicago White Sox. ... Quintanilla snapped an 0-for-22 slump with a seventh-inning single in Game 1. ... New York RHP Scott Atchison, just off the DL, was supposed to take over for Wheeler in Game 2. But the reliever injured his right groin while warming up and left the game without throwing an actual pitch. ... The Mets swept the Braves in a doubleheader for the first time since Sept. 6, 2006, at Shea Stadium.