|The Mets' Zack Wheeler looks in for the sign before the first hitter of the game. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Mets, behind a strong outing from Zach Wheeler and four home runs, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-3, to open this three-game series on Friday night at Citi Field.
Zack Wheeler got the start for the Mets on Friday night, his first after being on the injured list for a few weeks due to shoulder fatigue.
Wheeler has nine starts of at least seven innings this season, tied for seventh in the Majors. He allowed two-runs-or-less in three of his final four starts before the All-Star break, but was touched up for six runs in his last outing on July 7 against Philadelphia.
There are heavy rumors that the Mets will look to move Wheeler by the trade deadline, Wednesday, July 31.
Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said of the trade rumors possibly putting pressure on Wheeler going into this one, "It's a difficult task, you know, the thing about this game is you're always pitching under some kind of pressure, whether it's to stay in the big leagues, then it's for arbitration money, then it's for living up to your contract. There's always a reason why you have a lot of pressure on you, right, so this is a different case, but I think he'll be able to handle it. He's pitched through a lot of this in his career, you know, the hardest part is pitching to stay in the Major Leagues. That's the most pressure he'll probably ever pitch under, and he made it through that, made it to arbitration, now, he's approaching free agency, and this is part of free agency. You're about to be a free agent, you're on a team that hasn't gotten where they want to get yet, and there's a possibility you might get traded. That's his reality - it's not easy, just like the other things weren't easy - but he'll get through it. I'm sure he'll go out there and pitch a great game tonight."
Wheeler sailed through the first inning with just seven pitches, with a strikeout of Corey Dickerson and a pair of fly balls to center field from Adam Frazier and Starling Marte.
In the second, Josh Bell dunked one into center field, just out of Michael Conforto's reach. Bryan Reynolds then hit one into the hole between first and second before Colin Moran hit one to shortstop that bounced off Amed Rosario's glove, allowing Bell to score and making it 1-0 Pirates.
Wheeler then struck out Jung Ho Kang looking, then made a great defensive play when Elias Diaz grounded one back to him before getting his fellow pitcher, Dario Agrazal, to ground out to end the inning.
The third inning for Wheeler was much like the first, as he got Dickerson to fly out to left, Frazier to fly out to right, and then struck out Marte.
The first seven Mets were retired before Rosario hit a rocket to the warning track in center field for a triple.
Wheeler was up next, and after attempting a bunt, which was taken off, he was plunked on the right side of his body, eliciting boos from the crowd.
Jeff McNeil followed with a blast to the right field corner, which cleared the fence for a three-run homer to give the Mets a 3-1 edge.
Wheeler kept dominating on the mound, as he retired 12 straight through the end of the fifth inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Todd Frazier hit his 14th homer of the season, a solo shot, to make it 4-1.
The Pirates got to Wheeler in the top of the sixth. Melky Cabrera, who took over left field in the third inning, led off with a single, and then Adam Frazier hit a two-run homer to make it 4-3. (Side note: have to wonder how many times players with the same name have homered in the same game, let alone in back-to-back innings.)
Wheeler then got Marte to fly out to right field before allowing a single to Bell.
That was all for Wheeler, whose final line reads: 5 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 0 walks, 7 strikeouts.
Callaway said of the right-hander's performance, "I thought he threw the ball great, and he held his stuff, and he said he felt outstanding when he came out, said 'I could go more,' and we were like, 'okay, this is the pitch count that we allotted for this,' so outstanding, great stuff and threw the ball well.
"I liked his curveball; he used it probably a little more than usual and his fastball behind it was, you know, he threw 97 behind a slow curveball, tends to work pretty good. I thought his slider was good - threw some really good sliders, so he really had all four pitches working, which is not easy to do when you're coming off a little bit of a layoff."
Luis Avilan came on to get out of trouble by getting Reynolds to pop out to short and Moran to ground out to first.
Pete Alonso hit a moon shot to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the sixth for his 34th
homer of the year, and that knocked Agrazal out of the game.
After Cano popped out against Michael Feliz for the second out of the frame, Wilson Ramos tore into one for another solo shot to make it 6-3 Mets.
Robert Gsellman was first out of the Mets bullpen and he got through the seventh with ease.
Justin Wilson was up next in the eighth, and he worked around a double to Adam Frazier and Marte reaching on an error on a pop-up by Alonso. He struck out Bell, the National League RBI leader, and got Reynolds to bounce into a double play.
With Edwin Diaz unavailable as a precaution after he got hit by a line drive in the ankle on Thursday afternoon, Seth Lugo came on and retired the Pirates in order to earn his first save of the season.