Cliff Lee, the opposing pitcher, stepped up to the plate Monday night with two outs in the seventh inning. Under typical circumstances, Mets righthander Zack Wheeler would have faced the Phillies lefthander, especially with the chance of a win still within reach.
But nothing was usual about the vibe surrounding the Mets' eventual 2-1 loss.
Mere hours before Wheeler threw his first pitch, fellow phenom Matt Harvey was diagnosed with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, an injury that might wipe out his entire 2014 season. So when Wheeler reached his maximum pitch count, manager Terry Collins didn't hesitate to take him out.
"We said before the game 105 was the limit," Collins said. "Obviously, after what happened earlier today, we were sticking to it."
After the game, Wheeler, 23, made it clear he grudgingly accepted Collins' move.
"I understand," Wheeler said after allowing two runs, five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in 62/3 innings. "But I really wanted to be out there."
Like Harvey, Wheeler admitted he is feeling the effects of fatigue. It was an expected development, as he already has asked more of his body this year than at any previous point in his career.
For the first time, Wheeler will be expected to pitch into September, a rite of passage for modern-day pitchers. But general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the club now will take extra precautions with him. It was the first indication of how the Mets will proceed after learning of Harvey's elbow injury.
"I'll be very surprised if we exceed the [innings] limit that we previously had set for Zack Wheeler," Alderson said. "But that doesn't mean that there can't be an injury between now and then."
Wheeler pitched a career-high 149 innings last season. This season's total stands at 145 for the Mets and Triple-A Las Vegas. He was expected to be capped at about 170, putting the 200-inning mark within reach next year.
But Harvey's injury has prompted the Mets to think twice about pushing Wheeler. Like Harvey, Wheeler's innings limit contained leeway. For instance, the Mets ideally would have capped Harvey at 205 innings, though he could have been pushed to 215. No such flexibility exists now for Wheeler.
"There is always a risk associated with major-league pitching," Alderson said. "And these innings limits are not a guarantee of anything. And they're certainly not based on any science that will tell you that if you don't do this, you're safe. There's no safe harbor here. But we're doing what seems to be prudent in light of history."
It was the Mets' fifth straight defeat, thanks to a punchless lineup that managed only one run in eight innings against Lee.
The Mets' only run came in the second when Phillies centerfielder Roger Bernadina let Marlon Byrd's fly ball drop in, the result of an apparent miscommunication with rightfielder John Mayberry Jr. It was ruled a double, and one batter later, Andrew Brown singled to drive in Byrd.
The Phillies' Cody Asche hit a two-run triple in the fourth, which was enough against a Mets offense that has scored six runs in five games.