Las Vegas 4, Albuquerque 3
Last night I was at Cashman Field to witness the ace of the Las Vegas 51s and prized prospect Zack Wheeler on the mound. In many ways Wheeler lived up to the hype and pitched as expected. However, what I did NOT expect was the competitive spirit he displayed. His poise is more expected of a crafty veteran than a kid three weeks shy of turning 23.
Wheeler pitched well, keeping Albuquerque batters on their toes all evening. He tossed 7 1/3 innings, the longest of any 51s pitcher this season, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits. He fanned 7 while walking just 1. 61 of his 99 pitches went for strikes.
Albuquerque scored in the first. With Elian Herrera on 2nd and two outs Rusty Ryal singled hard to right. Eric Campbell fired a rocket to the plate. Herrera was out by ten feet. However, he avoided the swipe tag by Las Vegas catcher Juan Centeno. Ryal took second on the throw home. Wheeler, however, was unfazed. He turned it up a notch and fanned the next batter. No opposing batter reached second base again until the seventh inning.
In the seventh, with Wheeler and the 51s leading 2-1, he delivered a first pitch fastball that Matt Angle promptly sent high into the Vegas night. Wally Backman showed faith in Wheeler. He didn’t come out to settle him down. He didn’t wave to the bullpen. He gave Wheeler a chance to show what he’s made of and the young pitcher answered the call by striking out the next batter on a knee-buckling curveball.
Eric Campbell’s home run to lead off the home seventh put Vegas back on top, 3-2. Wheeler gave way to Justin Hampson in the eighth after allowing his one and only walk of the night. In the ninth, Hampson squandered the lead and Albuquerque tied the game at 3-3, therefore giving Wheeler a N/D.
The 51s won the game in the bottom of the ninth on a lead-off single by third baseman Zach Lutz followed by a walk to Eric Campbell. A fielder’s choice moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Omar Quintanilla was intentionally walked to load the bases. Backman had Reese Havens pinch hit. He fell behind quickly in the count, 1-2, but managed to work out a walk. A walk-off walk.
After watching him tonight, it’s clear—as we’ve all been reading and hearing—that Wheeler has “the stuff.” What I learned, however, is that he also has the make-up. He did not get rattled. He did not get flustered. When he had to reach back for something extra, he succeeded.
Another interesting observation about Zack Wheeler is the efficiency he pitches with. He keeps the game moving at a quick clip. He doesn’t take a lot of time between pitches. This obviously keeps the fielder’s sharp. Steve Trachsel he’s not.
2bman Wilmer Flores hit his 3rd HR of the season in the 4th and almost hit another in the 6th, sending the OF to the wall. He also flashed some leather, making a nice diving catch in the hole in the 7th.
It seems like every few years we Mets fans hear about ‘the next’ Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman. We hear it so much we become numb. Am I saying Zack Wheeler will be the next Koosman to Matt Harvey’s Seaver? No.
However, after seeing Harvey pitch over the last month and personally witnessing Zack Wheeler last night, maybe, just maybe, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Wilmer Flores: 1-for-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB
Eric Campbell: 1-for-3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB
Zach Lutz: 1-for-4, 1 R
Zack Wheeler: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2 ER, 7 K
Justin Hampson: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 K