A look back before Zack: Revisiting big Mets pitching debuts

Zach Wheeler #65 of the New York Mets

Zach Wheeler #65 of the New York Mets (Credit: Getty Images)

The wait ends Tuesday night for fans who have clamored for the Mets to call upon Zack Wheeler. While it’s too early to know how well he will perform in the big leagues, optimistic fans are hoping Wheeler joins Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Dwight Gooden as the fourth Mets pitcher to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. In the spirit of the occasion, here’s a look back at the debuts of all three of those pitchers, plus that of current Mets ace Matt Harvey.

Tom Seaver
April 13, 1967

“Tom Terrific” was at least pretty good in his first big league appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Too bad only 5,005 fans came out to Shea Stadium to see the eventual Hall of Famer that day. Such was baseball life in Queens before the Miracle Mets of 1969. Seaver allowed his first run in the third inning when Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente singled in Matty Alou. Seaver was later pulled in the sixth with one out and the game tied at 2, but not before making Hall of Famer Willie Stargell one of his eight strikeouts on the day in the third inning. Seaver didn’t factor into the decision as the Mets won, 3-2.

Jon Matlack
July 11, 1971

A year before being recognized as the NL’s top rookie, Matlack made a handful of starts with the Mets, the first of which came in the second half of a doubleheader, as will Wheeler’s first start Tuesday. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well in Cincinnati against a pre-Big Red Machine version of the Reds lineup that still featured Pete Rose and Tony Perez, the latter of whom drove in both runs Matlack surrendered. Ed Kranepool pinch hit for Matlack in the seventh with the Mets up 3-2, but Tug McGraw and Seaver squandered the lead and the game — 5-3 was the final — to cost Matlack his first major league win.

Dwight Gooden
April 7, 1984

Still a teenager at the time, “Dr. K” spent just one full year in A ball before leaping to the big leagues the following spring. Gooden took the ball for the Mets’ fourth game of the season in Houston against a lackluster Astros lineup that produced just one All-Star — Jerry Mumphrey. Gooden was in control at the Astrodome, posting three 1-2-3 innings and allowing just one run to score in the fifth inning on a single by Bill Doran. Dick Tidrow relieved Gooden before the sixth with the Mets leading 3-1, and the bullpen held on to give “Doc” a 3-2 win in his first start.

Matt Harvey
July 26, 2012

Not even a year ago, it was Harvey who was breaking into the majors for the Mets in Arizona. In a sign of things to come, Harvey proceeded to fan 11 Diamondbacks over 5 1/2 innings of scoreless baseball. Though he experienced some control issues in the third — two wild pitches — he scattered just three hits and three walks before he was pulled due to a high pitch count (106). Harvey also left his mark at the plate, going 2 for 2 with a double in the second. The Mets bullpen even did Harvey a favor for once by allowing just one run the rest of the way, paving the way for him to secure the “W” in a 3-1 Mets victory.

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