Despite the standings and some recent bad luck with injuries (fingers crossed on Jon Niese), for a lot of us the 2013 Mets season has become a little more fun. That fact can be summed up simply with the name Zack Wheeler. Now that Zack is here and in the rotation he joins Matt Harvey to make two out of every five Mets games a little buzz worthy. It’s not just that Harvey and Wheeler are special young pitchers, so is Niese, all of 26. It’s also the way they pitch, big fastballs and swing and miss stuff. These types of pitchers don’t come along every day and add a fun entertaining aspect to every start. Our own Ralph Kiner is famous for saying, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” So do strikeout pitchers.
Unlike home run hitters, the Mets have had their share of great and very good pitchers. Fans’ ages and reference points vary, but one comparison I have now seen many times in various forums is 1968, with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Now if things work out anywhere near what we got from Tom and Jerry nobody is going to complain, including me. But I don’t see that one very clearly myself. Harvey as Seaver, sure. The pure power of the fastball, the drop and drive delivery, and the win or else attitude too. It’s all there. Not talking career, staying healthy and dominant like Seaver isn’t even worth thinking about. As great an overall career as Doc Gooden had, and it was fantastic, the gulf with Seaver is large. And in 1985 I was certain, dead solid, that Doc would do everything Tom did. Live and learn. So as wonderful as Harvey has been, I don’t project out too much. I just think about what he can be for the next few years. That’s enough for me.
And now comes Zack. Compared to Matt, we still have very little information. One start, but a wonderful one at that. But not just numbers, there was more to it than that. There was an effortless 95 MPH and up fastball. A big 12-6 curve. And the fastball was moving at the end like a squirrel taking off to elude a big dog. It was the type of fastball that hitters know is coming and miss anyway. Badly.
And so sure, I’m a dreamer too and it gets me thinking back to that same year that Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman joined forces, 1968. Only I don’t see Zack Wheeler, a big right-handed pitcher with a strikeout per inning fastball, as Jerry Koosman. I see him as my favorite pitcher on the 1968 Mets, a pitcher who excited everyone around the Mets and baseball with his fastball. I see the chance to get the one-two punch I dreamed about as a child, but didn’t quite get. The one that would have made Jerry Koosman a number three starter. I see Zack Wheeler as Nolan Ryan.
As with the Harvey/Seaver comparisons, some quick qualifications. Just like Seaver, Nolan Ryan is a freak of nature. So I’m not talking about career here. But go look it up, one year after Tom Seaver joined the Mets in 1967, Nolan Ryan came up to be a member of the 1968 rotation. Then go look at how he pitched from April through June if you like. I looked it up myself, just to make sure the mind wasn’t playing tricks. It wasn’t. Sure, offense was down in 1968, but Nolan Ryan showed all of the skills that made him Nolan Ryan that spring. A breathtaking fastball and the big curve. And yes, some wildness, which I suspect we will get from Zack too. As control is considered all that and then some these days, remember that Ryan is the all-time leader in walks allowed. Second place, Steve Carlton. Control is everything if you throw like Dillon Gee. Zack Wheeler doesn’t throw like that.
Well, the thing with Ryan is that other than some wonderful relief work in the 1969 postseason we never got what I dreamed about. You can’t always get what you want and all that. And Jerry Koosman number two pitcher is nowhere on my list of complaints about being a Mets fan. But life is about second chances, and with Matt and Zack I see a shot at a few years of what we had for a few months in 1968.
A few years of that would be fine indeed.