The Mets, seemingly forever below .500, distributed orange caps Saturday to help put 26,426 fannies in the seats for their 5-1 victory over the Nationals.
No freebies will be needed Sunday, when prized righthander Zack Wheeler makes his highly anticipated debut at Citi Field in what the Mets hope will be the start of something big.
"I think it's a great day for our fans," manager Terry Collins said. "You guys have talked about it. We've talked about it. The future is right around the corner."
If that future is to be bright, Wheeler and his crackling fastball will have to be front and center. "Matt Harvey may be the leader of that, but certainly Zack Wheeler is right there with him," Collins said.
Wheeler, masterful in his debut before tipping his pitches in a shaky second start, eagerly has awaited the opportunity to show long-suffering home fans what the hype is all about. "It's going to be a big game," he said during the week. "I'm going to be here for a lot of years to come. This is going to be my home. Hopefully, I can go out there and do well."
Wheeler, 23, wasted no time showing he can be special by limiting the NL East-leading Braves to four hits in six scoreless innings in a 6-1 victory at Turner Field on June 18. He struck out seven and withstood five walks.
To put that game into perspective, of the 23 starters to debut this season, he is the only one not to permit a run in his first start. He was the fifth pitcher to strike out at least seven.
As unmistakable as Wheeler's vast potential was in Atlanta, the raw nature of his rare talent was plain to see when he opposed the White Sox on Tuesday night. He was fortunate to escape without a decision in a 5-4 Mets loss after surrendering four runs, all earned, in 51/3 innings. He struck out one and walked three in a laborious 109-pitch outing.
The Mets later acknowledged he was tipping his pitches against the White Sox. Pitching coach Dan Warthen spent much of the time between starts working to correct that.
Wheeler downplayed the adjustments that will be required. "I don't think it's anything too difficult," he said. "A tweak here or there and we're ready to go."
Collins also does not believe sweeping changes are necessary. "You don't want him worrying about if I made a big enough hip turn, am I standing tall, getting an extension," he said. "If he needs that much work, he shouldn't be here."
Collins noted that the White Sox managed only four hits off Wheeler even though they knew, at times, what was coming. "That just tells you how good his stuff is," he said. "And more than anything else, we've got to make sure he pitches with that fastball and pounds the strike zone because he's got great movement in the strike zone. And at 97, 98, that's hard to hit."
Wheeler's transition might be eased by the presence of Harvey, 7-1 with a 2.00 ERA through 17 starts this season. "He is a power pitcher. I think I am, too," Wheeler said. "I like watching how he goes about his game, how he goes about getting certain hitters out."
David Wright warned that too much importance should not be attached to Wheeler. "Not one person, pitcher or position player, can come in here and start single-handedly winning us divisions," he said while noting that recent developments are encouraging.
His advice to Wheeler before the young gun unloads his first pitch at Citi Field?
"The best advice is to enjoy it because it only happens once," Wright said. "Don't try to go out there and do too much. Don't try to go out there and impress. Do what got you to this point. He obviously knows what he's doing."