ATLANTA - Zack Wheeler's clothes were covered with Budweiser and Gatorade, the remnants of a much-deserved celebration.
In his big league debut, the 23-year-old lived up to all the hype and expectations, throwing six shutout innings to lead the Mets to a 6-1 win over the Braves.
"Once I settled down, just all my pitches, I was able to throw them for strikes," Wheeler said. "I was about to get in on some righties."
Wheeler's win capped one of the most memorable days in recent franchise history. In the opener of yesterday's doubleheader, fellow phenom Matt Harvey took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
Harvey said of Wheeler, "That's a pretty impressive start."
As expected, Wheeler showed some signs of nerves in his highly anticipated debut, walking five batters while needing 60 pitches to get through three innings. But he needed just 42 more over the following three frames before working out of a jam in the sixth.
"The stuff's there, the confidence is there, the poise is there," Mets captain David Wright said. "Now it's about getting on that Matt Harvey program, when you start commanding and harnessing that stuff. But you can tell why he's so highly touted. It's all there."
Wheeler finished with seven strikeouts while allowing just four hits, an impressive performance considering the massive buildup for his first start.
"I was really impressed with the way he competed," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He didn't overthrow . . . he stayed within himself very, very well."
The righthander showed his mettle by escaping the sixth unscathed. With runners on first and second and just one out, Wheeler whiffed Dan Uggla then induced a harmless pop up from Chris Johnson.
With that, Wheeler, a native of suburban Atlanta, used his right forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow, then began his slow walk back to the dugout to a rising ovation from a crowd loaded with friends and family.
Battery-mate Anthony Recker hit a two-run homer in the seventh to put Wheeler in line for the victory in his debut before the Mets blew the game open with a four-run eighth inning. The offensive outburst effectively put Wheeler's first career in the bag.
The Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants in 2011 to acquire Wheeler, who was already considered one of the game's prized pitching prospects. Almost instantly, the Mets looked to Wheeler to emerge as part of the foundation in the team's effort to transform the organization into consistent contenders.
Wheeler walked his first batter, Andrelton Simmons, before bouncing back for his first strikeout victim, Jason Heyward. Before it was over, he sawed off Justin Upton's bat with a 97-mph fastball before getting B.J. Upton to bounce into a forceout.
Over dinner the previous night, Wright said Wheeler insisted that he wasn't nervous. But in the first, when Wright said Wheeler was "spraying the ball everywhere," the Mets captain decided it was time for a visit just to ease the tension.
Said Wright: "I told him he was a liar and that he looked nervous."
The crack drew a smile from the pitcher. "It calmed me down a little bit," Wheeler said.
Wheeler routinely fell behind batters, but he also worked his way out of trouble. He stranded baserunners in each of his six innings. Yet he never gave in, walking off the field with a line of zeros gracing the scoreboard.
"I was pretty pumped up about that last out that I got," he said. "That was really about it. I was happy with my outing and just ready to move on to the next one, and build off this."