W is for Wheeler after first win since 2014

April 13th, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Zack Wheeler watched from the Citizens Bank Park dugout, nervous, as the worst-case scenario began to unfold before his eyes.

Wheeler had just left Wednesday's 5-4 Mets win over the Phillies with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. immediately gave up a first-pitch grand slam to , and Wheeler's victory -- his first since 2014 -- was suddenly in the balance.

"It was a little stressful," Wheeler said afterward. "But you can always count on these guys coming out of the bullpen. They're a solid group. I wasn't, like, too stressed out or anything."

As Wheeler spoke, he wore a jewel-encrusted crown, which the Mets give daily to their player of the game. While Franco's homer ensured that Wheeler's final line -- 5 2/3 innings, four hits, three runs and four strikeouts -- was not spectacular, the symbolism of what Wheeler achieved was not lost on his teammates.

"He deserved it, the way he pitched," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "That's a long road back, his first win in a long time."

It was Wheeler's first win since Sept. 19, 2014, to be exact, a span of nearly 2 1/2 years. Between victories, Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery, suffered multiple setbacks and wondered, at times, if he would ever make it back to a Major League mound.

That changed in Spring Training, when Wheeler ramped up his velocity to 97 mph and earned a spot in the Mets' rotation. But at no point in March did Wheeler look this crisp, retiring 11 consecutive batters from the second through the sixth innings. Most of those outs came on the ground, the Phillies repeatedly beating Wheeler's breaking pitches into the dirt.

Trouble surfaced only in the sixth, when the Phillies began squaring up Wheeler's mid-90s fastball. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, prompting Collins to remove Wheeler from the game at 85 pitches.

That forced him to watch from the dugout as Franco mashed Robles' first pitch over the fence for a grand slam, ballooning the starter's ERA from 4.66 to 7.45 -- numbers that hardly mattered later, in the context of his first win.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders, to be honest," Wheeler said. "You come back and you don't know if you're going to be throwing as hard. You don't know if you're going to be able to get guys out. You don't know if you're going to get more wins. So it's nice to sort of achieve these small goals, these small personal goals since the start of Spring Training, really. It just feels good to get back out there and get this 'W.'"