Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Was this a glimpse of the future? I sure hope so.

It is no secret. The Mets are not a good baseball team. In fact, my fantasy baseball team this season has the very original name "The Mets are bad.", and it's funny because it's true. This is a bad squad, and for most of the season it has seemed the only bright light, nay, the only reason to even bother watching once every five days, was to see the superb young arm of Matt Harvey. Given that these are the Mets, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Harvey's arm will fall off at some point in the next year or so even though he is still a consistently dominant starter who just might be starting the All-Star Game this season if he had something remotely close to a Major League offense supporting him.

Given that the All-Star Game is in his home stadium, that might be a pretty nice highlight of the year for Mets fans who will have few of them in 2013.

Yesterday, though, we got lucky. The Mets' bullpen mediocrity is widely known and their lineup woes are essentially the stuff of legend at this point. But the starting rotation hasn't really been all that terrible behind Harvey. Jon Niese is a solid middle of the rotation starter, Dillion Gee has actually given the Mets a few strong outings and even Jeremy Hefner, his record aside, hasn't really been all that awful. But all this season, we've known that most of those people were placeholders.

For much of this season, beyond watching the maturation of Harvey most Mets fans were waiting until we might finally see Zack Wheeler make his way to the bigs. Wheeler was the haul brought into the organization in 2011, when the Mets dealt Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in the final year of his seven-year contract with New York. That Beltran was always unappreciated in New York -- fans will one day rightfully recognize him as the best defensive, and possibly best offensive outfielder in franchise history -- and that Wheeler, the No. 6-overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, was highly touted seemed to make this a win-win situation. Well, maybe not for the Giants.

So with all that buildup, it's any wonder how Mets fans managed to sift through two years of anticipation to see the other half of their reputed two-headed pitching monster of the future. Yesterday, at long last, we got our first look.

Wheeler was shaky in the first inning, as someone facing a Major League lineup (And the first-place Braves did him no favors on the lineup card) that shouldn't be unexpected. He still managed to get through the inning with no runs coming across and as the night wore on, Wheeler settled down, winning his first Major League start and finishing with a very solid 6 IP, 4 H, 5 BB, 7 K and 0 ER. Those five walks were a little unsightly, but the control will come. Wheeler looks to have the stuff of a top-flight Major League pitcher, who will at least be a high No. 2 rotation starter if not the caliber of an ace.

But what made last night so special wasn't merely Wheeler's strong debut. It was the fact that it came on the heels of yet another brilliant outing by Harvey, who opened up a doubleheader in Atlanta with a no-hit bid that might have come to fruition were it not for a flukish, choppy bouncer up the first baseline and a lack of basic defensive fundamentals. Harvey was what is becoming his typical dominant self, making the Braves appear off balance all day and striking out 13 in the process.

For Mets fans, this is the future we were promised when the Alderson regime took over to pull the Amazins out of the dregs. This narrative is what we had been fed for years: a solid farm system that would produce strong pitching and put the team in position to spend after it had taken its lumps. At points it seemed like we all were being fed nonsense in desperate pleas to keep us in the seats. But at long last, the efforts of rebuilding what had been a barren farm system appear to finally be bearing fruit. Harvey has established himself as an ace and Wheeler's debut has given us reason to believe we just might be on the cusp of the closest thing this franchise will ever have to Koufax and Drysdale -- or at least another Seaver and Koosman. That this sign of what's to come came against the hated Braves, at Turner Field in a doubleheader sweep, made it all the sweeter, and it managed to catch the eye of some old friends.

Do we Mets fans really know if this is the future our team has in store for us? No, not yet. Not really. But it's what we have been promised. And after yesterday there's no reason to believe we won't get it. If that's the case, this miserable season that will likely end in 90-plus losses won't be as awful as it sounds, and it just might be the harbinger of the brightness of what's to come. If you root for this team -- if you gotta believe -- it was hard to watch yesterday and not be excited.

I only wish Larry was here to see it.

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