PHILADELPHIA -- If Monday night's 9-4 win over the Phillies was Zack Wheeler's last start for the Mets in 2018, it made for a fitting end to his breakout season.Wheeler powered through a rough fifth inning to again go deep into the game, this time lasting seven frames. He departed
PHILADELPHIA -- If Monday night's 9-4 win over the Phillies was Zack Wheeler's last start for the Mets in 2018, it made for a fitting end to his breakout season.
Wheeler powered through a rough fifth inning to again go deep into the game, this time lasting seven frames. He departed with a one-run lead after Michael Conforto's double put the Mets ahead in the seventh, and that status was hardly in danger after Conforto broke the game open with a three-run homer in the ninth inning as part of his career-high six RBIs.
"This is the Michael Conforto that everybody wants to see," manager Mickey Callaway said.
The Mets now hold an 11-6 edge in the season series against the Phillies with two to play, and Wheeler picked up his MLB-best ninth win since the All-Star break. His ERA is 1.68 in that span.
Because he's pitched so deep into games, Wheeler's innings count has spiked. So much so that he'll have a talk with Callaway on Tuesday to see if he'll make another start. With Wheeler three innings shy of tying his career high for a season, a shutdown for the regular season's final two weeks is possible.
"If we feel that he's had enough," Callaway said. "He's in a really good spot right now. Not that we wanna do it so he can finish on a good note. We want to make sure we're taking care of the player."
Wheeler said he'll leave the decision up to the Callaway and management.
"I'm still feeling good and my legs are under me," he said.
Wheeler's latest start was approached by the club with caution because team data showed the right-hander fatigued during his previous outing against the Marlins on Wednesday. That may have been due to of a lengthy rain delay that forced Wheeler out of his routine and into a later start.
The idea of Wheeler not being at 100 percent seemed distant early on in Monday's series opener. A double play erased the only baserunner he allowed through the first four innings. Austin Jackson gobbled up the only near-hit with a diving play in center field.
"We kept on checking on him in between innings and he kept on saying that he wanted to go back out," Callaway said. "That's always a good sign."
Wheeler entered the bottom of the fifth with a 4-0 lead and a no-hit bid consisting of just 44 pitches. Neither survived. Wilson Ramos turned the first pitch of the inning into the Phillies' first hit. Wheeler hit a batter, then he allowed another single to load the bases. J.P. Crawford hit a bases-clearing triple and later coasted home on a sacrifice fly by Cesar Hernandez to tie the game.
"I just started command-wise losing it a little bit," Wheeler said. "I had to get past that inning and refocus, and I was able to do that for the most part."
Callaway's pregame concerns seemed valid when Wheeler plunked Asdrubal Cabrera to start the sixth. A walk and a wild pitch put two Phillies in scoring position and furthered the notion that maybe Wheeler had tired. But Wheeler froze Nick Williams and got Odubel Herrera to pop out to end the threat. Callaway doubled down when he let Wheeler lead off the seventh, and he came out in the bottom of the frame unscathed with the lead.
Robert Gsellman, Daniel Zamora and Drew Smith combined for two scoreless innings of relief to seal the win. Wheeler, though, looked more like a frontline starter than the pitcher who had battled injuries early on in his career.
"I'm excited about this team," Conforto said. "We have some great young players, a great rotation. We have some exciting arms in the 'pen. I think finishing strong here is a goal of ours."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Conforto was involved in just about every successful offensive sequence. When the Mets pounded Phillies starter Jacob Arrieta in a three-run fifth that included five hits and three hard-hit balls, Conforto capped the rally with a two-run single. His two-out double provided a 5-4 lead in the seventh. In the ninth, Conforto took lefty Austin Davis deep into the center-field bushes.
"This is one of the better players in the league when he's going like this," Callaway said.
The three-hit game gave Conforto 22 RBIs in September, already the most he's had in a single month. After a slow start this season, Conforto has shown a recent sample size that suggests he can be more like the player that made an All-Star Game appearance at age 24 a year ago.
"I knew if I put the work in and I stayed positive, eventually, I was going to come around to doing the things I was doing last year. The shoulder is completely healthy. It's strong. It's back to normal. I just knew at some point it was going to come around."
With David Wright set to retire after the season, Conforto seems to have already assumed the captain's role as a villain in Philadelphia. In 46 career games against the Phillies, Conforto has 44 RBIs.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Jackson made a tremendous diving grab in shallow center field to rob Herrera of a hit on a blooper in the third inning.
Mets left-hander Steven Matz (5-11 4.18 ERA) will start the middle game of this series at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. His record can be a bit misleading as Matz has come on strong of late, posting a 2.67 ERA and 35 strikeouts over his past five starts. The Phillies will counter with ace Aaron Nola (16-5, 2.42 ERA).
Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.