"You can let the game get away and he didn't," Terry Collins later said. "That's why I'm telling you, this kid is really starting to figure it out."
Wheeler faced 27 batters, allowed 11 base runners and tossed 109 pitches.
"It's not fun," he said, speaking about pitching without his 'best stuff.' "You're mad at yourself and you're trying to figure out what it is. I wouldn't say it's mentally draining, but it's frustrating."
Wheeler said he could tell in the bullpen, warming up before the game, that he didn't have good command of his curve ball, slider or change up.
"I could tell it was going to be one of those days, but you have to get through it," he added.
According to Wheeler, Dan Warthen watched video between innings and advised Wheeler on an adjustment that helped him get through the game.
"He said that I was rushing to the plate a little bit and my back leg was collapsing," explained Wheeler. "He said to stay a little taller and stronger so I could finish through the pitches."
In his last seven starts, Wheeler is 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA, having pitched at least six innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each outing, the longest Mets streak since 1999 (Daily News, Aug. 6).
"You see it in every phase," said Terry Collins. "He's not just throwing now, he knows what he wants to do. But the biggest thing is, I've seen a whole different competitor on the mound. All of the sudden he's a different animal out there. "You saw it tonight. He just kept fighting. And he's carrying that plus-fastball deep into games now. Last year you'd see 96 the first couple of innings, then 92 and 93. Not anymore. You look up in the seventh inning and he's at 95-96."
Tom Seaver once told me, eventually, these were the games he enjoyed most, because it meant he had to work harder and use his mind as much as his body to get through the game. In time, he began seeing these sort of nights as a welcomed challenge.
Wheeler seemed to have no command of his off-speed pitches again, which is something that has been going on now for weeks. Nevertheless, again, he fought his way through, with help from Warthen and Travis d'Arnaud. He stayed in the game mentally, despite not having it physically. He didn't give up, which is great to see. He also managed to command his innings, slow things down, get timely ground balls, all in the face of so many foul balls and a high pitch count. The final step for him will be trying to make this happen earlier in the count, earlier in the game, on nights like this... Here's the thing, though, while I'm encouraged he's fighting and doing well without his 'best stuff,' what happened to his 'best stuff'? Where did it go?