Amazin’ Ten of 2013: #1 – June 18


And just like that, we’ve come to the end of our month-long Amazin’ Ten countdown. We’ve covered nine of the 10 greatest Met moments from the year that was, and we’re about to bring you the game that most made New Yorkers look up and pay attention. And to do so will require a bit of cheating…this is no game, but two games we shall revisit on the day the New York Mets waited nearly two full years for.

#1 – Harvey-Wheeler Day (June 18)

Jun 18, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, after the Carlos Beltran trade in July 2011, when Zack Wheeler was seen as the cream of the crop in the Mets’ farm system, the next great starting pitcher in the tradition of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. Then came Matt Harvey in August 2012. All of a sudden, the Mets had not one but two shiny, new arms to torment the rest of the National League with. It was just a matter of when the second gun would be fully loaded.

That day was Tuesday, June 18, 2013, two days into the Nieu Year, in the citadel of the Mets’ historic rivals, the Atlanta Braves. Zack Wheeler had just come up and was due to make his major-league debut that night. But before the main course, Met fans would be treated to the tastiest of appetizers.

Game 1

The Mets got runs in the third on a Marlon Byrd single and the fourth on a John Buck home run, and Matt Harvey took care of the rest in game one of the twin bill. One inning without a hit. Two innings without a hit. Three innings without a hit. And so on, and so forth, until it was the bottom of the seventh inning and Harvey had himself another no-hit bid. It was Harvey’s third time taking a no-no into the seventh in the first two and a half months of the season, but both other times against the Twins and White Sox, he failed to get the 21st out to take it to the eighth. The drama was real…

June 23, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey (33) delivers to the plate during the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets defeated the Phillies 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

…And quickly petered out, as Jason Heyward singled to lead off the seventh. But he was quickly deposed by the arm of Buck, who threw Heyward out stealing second after Harvey’s strikeout of Freddie Freeman. Chris Johnson’s groundout ended the Braves’ chances in that frame.

New York added to Harvey’s lead in the top of the eighth: Byrd smashed a one-out double, Lucas Duda was walked intentionally, and Buck was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Jordany Valdespin drew the bases loaded walk and Omar Quintanilla hit a sac fly to score Duda, and the Mets were up 4-0. It would have been nice to have more than just two runs, but with Harvey dominating the way he was, four runs were enough.

Except Matt Harvey made things much more interesting than they should have been. A walk of Gerald Laird, a single from Dan Uggla, and a bases-loading single from Andrelton Simmons later, and young Harvey was out of the game. LaTroy Hawkins was brought on in relief, but after Brian McCann struck out, Jordan Schafer cut the New York lead in half with a two-run single. Justin Upton grounded into a force out, but after Scott Rice was brought on, Jason Heyward doubled, plating Simmons and putting the tying run 90 feet from home and the go-ahead run right behind. Freddie Freeman was given the intentional pass, and Terry Collins called on Bobby Parnell for the rare four-out save. In this situation, the first out, not the last, would be the real challenge. But Parnell was up to such a challenge, striking out Chris Johnson to end the threat.

Parnell would close things out in the ninth inning, and the Mets had given Matt Harvey a rare win with a 4-3 victory. On any other day, that would have been the front-page story.

Game 2

But this was the rarest of days when Matt Harvey took a back seat. The opening act was over, and the main attraction was about to take the stage. His name: Zachary Harrison Wheeler. His hometown: Smyrna, Georgia, less than 17 miles from Atlanta’s Turner Field. His role: starting pitcher, New York Mets.

Jun 18, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The show didn’t start without a hitch or two, as Wheeler walked Andrelton Simmons to lead off the game. Simmons stole second during Jason Heyward’s at-bat, but Wheeler chased away some of the butterflies by striking Heyward out on a 97 mph fastball. After Justin Upton grounded out, Freddie Freeman drew a walk, prompting a “calm down” visit from Dan Warthen. And calm down Zack did, forcing B.J. Upton into a force out to end the first inning.

Wheeler struck out three Braves around a Dan Uggla double in the second, and then worked around two more walks in the third to get through unscathed. The Mets tried to get some runs behind their anxious young starter in the top of the fourth, but Josh Satin struck out after a successful double steal by Daniel Murphy and Marlon Byrd, and the game was still scoreless after Wheeler worked around a single in his half.

Wheeler forced a double play to make it through the fifth after facing the minimum. Murphy and David Wright singled and doubled with two outs in the sixth, but New York would stay stuck at zero after Byrd popped out.

The pressure was getting to Wheeler, as he put two more Atlanta runners on with one out in the sixth. With his pitch count running high, Warthen trotted out with a few more words of encouragement. Get through this inning, kid. Just get through this inning. That was something Zack could do: he struck out Uggla with a 90 mph slider and forced Johnson into a weak popup to second. The kid’s day was done, and it wasn’t the prettiest of debuts: four hits and five walks in six innings. But the most important number, runs against, stood at zero. Zack Wheeler had tossed six shutout innings in his major-league debut with a hometown crowd watching. Beat that.

But now came the matter of rewarding Wheeler for his good worth with a shiny, new 1-0 record. Josh Satin and Anthony Recker abided: Satin singled to lead off the seventh, and Recker belted a home run to dead center. 2-0 Mets, Wheeler on the long end of the decision.

But would two runs be enough? It didn’t look to be after the Braves worked back-to-back singles off Brandon Lyon, who entered the game after Scott Atchison failed to get out of warm-ups, to start the bottom of the seventh. Jason Heyward’s groundout put the tying runs in scoring position, and the present mirrored the (extremely recent) past. But Lyon dug deep; he was not going to let his new teammate go down like this. Justin Upton’s sac fly made it 2-1, but after walking Freeman, Lyon forced B.J. Upton into a groundout. Crisis averted.

At this point, the Mets took their bats and said, “Enough is enough. Let’s get some runs.” Marlon Byrd started things with a two-out double and came home on an errant pickoff attempt by Atlanta’s Anthony Varvaro. Satin walked and Recker singled, bringing up Juan Lagares, who lined a single into left to make it 4-1. And Mr. Q followed with the nail in the coffin: a two-run single that gave the Mets an insurmountable 6-1 lead.

David Aardsma and Josh Edgin combined to get the final six outs, and Zack Wheeler was a winner in his first start as a New York Met. He would celebrate mightily that night. Most likely with string cheese.

That night, we all forgot that Wheeler had control problems. Or that Harvey almost missed out on another W. Or that the Mets were still only 27-40 at this point in the season. No, this was the night when we all stood up and applauded. This was the night the pitching staff had come together. This was also the night Sandy Alderson traded for Eric Young, Jr., meaning this was the night we had some semblance of a team to root for. If the Nieu Year was daybreak, Harvey-Wheeler Day the rising of the sun to a bright, Amazin’ shine. This was the dawn of a new era of New York Mets baseball.

June 18: the most Amazin’ game(s) of 2013. And with that, we reach the end of our season in review. We now stand 108 days form Opening Day 2014. Who knows which Amazin’ moments we’ll be reliving next year?

Amazin’ Ten of 2013

#10 – Hot O in the Cold TC (April 12)

#9 – Wheeler by the Bay (July 10)

#8 – Wright is Clutch, Valdespin is Grand (April 24)

#7 – Harvey Nearly Perfect, Baxter Walks Off (May 7)

#6 – Flores’s Hello and Harvey’s Shutout (August 7)

#5 – Gee Caps Yankee Sweep (May 30)

#4 – Harvey’s Better (April 19)

#3 – The Mets’ MO-ment (May 28)

#2 – The Nieu Year (June 16)

#1 – Harvey-Wheeler Day (June 18)

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