Zack Wheeler's arrival a boost to SNY broadcast, too

Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler throws a pitch during Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler throws a pitch during a spring training workout at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

It has come to this: Even when the Mets win, they are a punch line on national TV.

After Kirk Nieuwenhuis' walk-off home run against the Cubs on Sunday, Bob Costas took a cheap shot on NBC's U.S. Open telecast, saying, "A team 14 games under .500 celebrates as if it just won the seventh game of the World Series -- another indication of the ongoing decline of Western civilization."

Then, on "SportsCenter," ESPN's Robert Flores fired this zinger after narrating the Mets' three-errant-throws misadventure in the fifth inning: "This play walked up to Mark Sanchez's butt fumble and just dropped the mic."

So it goes for the Amazin's, which in part is what makes Tuesday's day-night double feature in Atlanta so special. In a season that is all about the future, nothing -- not even sweeping the Yankees -- can compare in importance to seeing Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler pitch on the same day, and following where they go from here.

"I think if you're a fan, you feel like you're watching Seaver and Koosman," SNY analyst Ron Darling said, clearly unafraid to feed the hype. "You feel like you are watching the line of demarcation to where they have been and where they're going."

Bobby Ojeda, SNY's studio analyst, said: "I've got to tell you, I'm so glad I'm working both games. I can't wait to watch. I don't know what to expect more than any other person.

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"Harvey's pretty much a given because he's ridiculous. [Wheeler] is filled with talent, filled with promise. The first game is not a make or break but what's going to happen on Day One, I truly am looking forward to it."

Mets fans are, too, even more so because no one is sure what to make of Wheeler's work in the dry heat of Triple-A Las Vegas.

SNY is on pace for the lowest Mets ratings in its eight-season history, stuck with a team out of contention earlier than any other in that span, and suddenly has been gifted with a marquee attraction.

"I think this team, fan base, organization, and maybe a little bit the announcers, need a jolt of excitement, and he provides that," Darling said of Wheeler.

Ojeda and Darling agreed the worst thing manager Terry Collins could do is go with a six-man rotation after adding Wheeler. Ojeda said that would be "disastrous."

No matter what the young pitchers do over the next 31/2 months, it is unlikely to lift the Mets into playoff contention. That presents an ongoing challenge for SNY's announcers, who are trying to tell it like it is while trying to keep viewers interested.

Darling said the crew often wonders what it will talk about on a given night, but then the action begins and "each game, if you're watching and if you're invested, it gives you fresh places to go every single time."

For Ojeda, one trick is to think of each season as part of a larger narrative. "It becomes this moving, living chess game and there is no end to it," he said. "This year's over, yeah, but it's never really over because we have next year and what great plays or great games that could transpire."

Enter Harvey and Wheeler. Darling said the SNY team spoke last week about not over-talking through Wheeler's first start, letting the game breathe and giving fans a chance to "watch and enjoy, or not enjoy, whatever the case may be."

"I think he's going to do OK," Ojeda said. "He's got a tough lineup. He's going to have emotions. He has family there. If he can get out there and give you five, six, decent good, solid innings of baseball and not let the emotions get away from him, that's really what you can ask for."

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Fair enough. For now.

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