The trade deadline hovered on the horizon on Friday, and as the clock ticked toward 4 p.m., Sandy Alderson and his lieutenants huddled in a war room to weigh their next move.
For the second time in three days, the Mets' general manager inched closer toward trading away a pitcher he had worked so hard to pry from the Giants at the trade deadline four years ago.
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Back then, Zack Wheeler represented hope. For a beleaguered franchise that envisioned a rebirth built on pitching, he had been one of the first pieces of a much larger plan to stockpile arms.
Now, with that plan speeding toward completion, Wheeler couldn't stomach the thought of not seeing it through. So the 25-year-old suppressed his nerves and prepared to do something extraordinary.
In Florida, Wheeler grabbed his phone and dialed. In New York, Alderson picked up and listened to a personal appeal, one that he later said left a lasting impression.
"I told him I know it's a business and he has a job to do, but I'd really like to be here because of what's about to happen," Wheeler told Newsday on Sunday. "I've been here a couple of years and want to see it through."
He spoke about why he made the call. "I know that doesn't happen every day and I was nervous about doing it," said Wheeler, still a Met. "But I figured it was the best way to get it across that I wanted to stay and be a part of this team's winning future."
Before his conversation with Alderson, Wheeler's anguish played out privately. Rehab from Tommy John surgery effectively shielded him from the fans, from the field, from the television cameras.
It was those same cameras that spotted the tears welling in the eyes of teammate Wilmer Flores on Wednesday night, when he was bundled along with Wheeler in a trade that would have sent them to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez.
Ultimately, the deal fell apart.
The Crying Game has since become the latest colorful slice of franchise lore, especially after Flores' first career walk-off homer two nights later saved the team that had just tried to trade him away.
Just before touching home plate, Flores clutched at the front of his jersey, reaching for the classic script that reads "Mets." Later, on social media, Wheeler wrapped up the events with a succinct tweet: "Oh my."
But unlike Flores, Wheeler was forced to relive the nightmare. He again found his name featured prominently in another trade rumor, this one in a deal to the Reds for Jay Bruce.
Despite reports that characterized talks as heating up, sources told Newsday that the sides ultimately never came close to a deal. Nevertheless, as the reports grew in frequency, Wheeler plotted his next move.
A few days earlier, he had asked his agents to express his desire to remain with the Mets. But he wondered if it was enough.
As Wheeler summoned the nerve to call Alderson, it became clear that the message needed to come from him directly. He decided that it needed to be, as he said, "refreshed."
Throughout the conversation, Wheeler reached for the proper tone, aware of the fine line that distinguishes asking from begging. He expressed the reasons for his desire to remain a Met, all the while acknowledging that he ultimately held no control over that fate.
By then, trade talks with the Reds had died down. So in an immediate sense, the call proved moot.
Alderson, however, said the conversation "actually had quite an impact." In all of his years in baseball, he said he had never seen a player in Wheeler's position take the unusual step of calling.
"Again, if you go back to Wednesday and even this conversation, we're talking about human beings," Alderson said. "We all develop an attachment to each other and whatever capacity we serve, so it's hard."
In the conversation, both established that baseball remains a business. That part still applies. Wheeler's name could come up in trade talks in the offseason. But Wheeler already has made his point. The message has resonated, as evidenced by the recent outpouring of gratitude he's received from fans via social media.
Said the man who didn't want to leave: "Thanks for all of the support.''