After going 13 innings Saturday, the Mets needed their starting pitcher to give them a nice, clean and preferably long performance on Sunday in the finale of their three-game weekend series against the Detroit Tigers.
And after a bit of a shaky start, Zack Wheeler delivered.
The righthander allowed a solo home run by Nicholas Castellanos in the first inning and a two-run single by Castellanos in the third that put the Mets in a three-run hole. Wheeler, however, recovered to throw 7 1⁄3 innings and handed over a one-run lead to the bullpen, which closed out a 4-3 victory that wrapped up a 6-1 homestand that brought the Mets back to .500 (26-26).
“He settled in nicely,’’ manager Mickey Callaway said after Wheeler (4-3) struck out eight, walked one and gave up five hits. He also went 2-for-3 and is hitting .308.
“When you get down three runs, your job is to just keep on battling and making sure that they don’t add on any more, and give us a chance to win . . . and he did that today,’’ Callaway said. “And, as deep as he pitched in the game, with the lack of bullpen that we had today, with all the craziness that’s been going on, is really, really big. To pitch into the eighth, it’s unbelievable. That’s really stepping it up today.’’
The Tigers (19-31) led 3-0 after Castellanos’ third-inning hit, but Wheeler then retired 13 straight hitters to give the Mets’ offense a chance to wake up.
It did in the fourth, scoring four runs to take the lead. Todd Frazier’s push bunt against the shift drove in one run and Adeiny Hechavarria later hit a three-run homer to rightfield.
“I really had a hard time with Castellanos in the beginning,’’ Wheeler said. “He hit a couple good pitches, stayed inside the ball. But after that, we just attacked him inside, didn’t let him get his hands extended, and we got a better result.’’
Dominic Smith (2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored) led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and moved to third on Wilson Ramos’ one-out single. Then, against an infield shift, Frazier slid his hands up the bat as though to bunt but instead drove the barrel of the bat to the ball, pushing it through the vacant right side. That drove in Smith and sent Ramos to third. After Carlos Gomez struck out for the second out, Hechavarria homered to make it 4-3.
Wheeler finally allowed another baserunner in the eighth as JaCoby Jones (2-for-4) led off with a single to left. Wheeler struck out pinch hitter Miguel Cabrera, but Jones stole second and Niko Goodrum walked.
Callaway brought in Jeurys Familia, who hasn’t had a great year to this point, but he struck out Dawel Lugo and Castellanos.
“Definitely the best he’s just pitched overall in a situation,’’ Callaway said. “Coming in, being efficient with his pitches; two strikeouts, get us out of an inning, and then get the ball to Diaz. That was just fantastic.’’
Closer Edwin Diaz walked Christin Stewart to begin the ninth and allowed a one-out single by Brandon Dixon that put runners on first and third. But he struck out John Hicks swinging and Jones looking to end the game.
It won’t get any easier for the Mets now, though. They will head west for four games against the Dodgers (35-18) and three against the Diamondbacks (28-25).