Between the pace, the efficiency, the bulldog mentality and overwhelming success, it was difficult to look out at Zack Wheeler on the mound Sunday afternoon and not think about Roy Halladay.
The connection was on the minds of Wheeler, manager Joe Girardi, 39,186 rowdy fans in attendance and a fanbase desperate for a division title.
Wheeler was a man on a mission, paying a fitting tribute to Halladay with a brilliant two-hit shutout on the day The Good Doctor’s No. 34 was retired.
"To do that on his day, what can you say? Today was his day and I just tried to pitch like him,” Wheeler said.
He did. Brandon Nimmo greeted Wheeler with a leadoff double, then Wheeler rapidly cruised with his free-and-easy 97-99 mph fastball, retiring 22 in a row. He pounded a team struggling to hit fastballs with fastballs and the Mets went six innings without so much as hitting a ball out of the infield.
No Phillie had retired 22 in a row since, yep, Halladay in his perfect game in 2010.
"On a day that you honor one of the greatest pitchers that I’ve witnessed pitch, he goes out and it was like Roy had his hand on him," said a choked-up Girardi. "He gives a Roy Halladay appearance today."
It was the second shutout of the season for Wheeler. The NL East-leading Phillies won 3-0 to finish off a pivotal three-game sweep over the Mets. They’ve picked up six games on the Mets in seven days.
"I didn’t want to come out of the game," Wheeler said. "I wanted to finish the game. With the fans as loud and crazy as they were, it gave me that little extra bit to get through that."
He worked around a ninth-inning single to finish what he started on 108 pitches.
The Phils set the tone by homering twice in the first inning. It was their eighth consecutive win, their longest streak in more than a decade. They last won eight in a row from July 29 through August 6 in 2011.
Halladay won two of those games.
Jean Segura, hit by a pitch on the lip Saturday night, crushed a solo home run to left-center with one out in the bottom of the first. J.T. Realmuto followed two batters later with an opposite-field solo shot. Bryce Harper added an opposite-field solo homer of his own in the sixth inning.
The crowd of was loud from start to finish. It was a touching weekend at Citizens Bank Park with a ceremony Friday for the late David Montgomery, Saturday to induct Manny Trillo into the Wall of Fame and Sunday to retire Halladay’s number.
You’d better believe Wheeler wanted to contribute to his former team’s skid. It took him only four innings to throw the most 99+ mph pitches he’s had in any career start. He was amped and knew early that he had his best stuff.
"I think I’ll always have that little chip on my shoulder," he said. "We’re all human."
Wheeler spent his first five seasons with the Mets before signing a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies. When Wheeler left the Mets in free agency two winters ago, then-GM Brodie Van Wagenen insinuated publicly that he wasn’t worth the money. Wheeler has vastly outperformed the contract to this point. Does Gerrit Cole look $206 million better?
The Mets are 2-9 in their last 11 games and now in third place. The Phillies’ lead is two games over the Braves, who are a half-game ahead of the Mets.
On Thursday, the Mets left 15 men on base.
On Friday, the Mets went 1 for 16 with men on base.
On Saturday, the Mets had two hits and no runs through eight innings.
On Sunday, the Mets were two-hit.
They had led the NL East for 90 consecutive days until this weekend.
"That’s the thing about this game, you have to stay in it for the long haul," Girardi said. "You can have bad weeks. We had a bad couple of weeks at one point. But it's a long season. Different people stepping up at different times. I give all the credit to the guys in there because they’re performing. We have a long way to go, but I’m very proud of what they’re doing."
Wheeler continues to build upon his Cy Young résumé. In 23 starts, he's 10-6 with a 2.42 ERA, leading the majors with 156 innings and 181 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom has not pitched since July 7 because of a forearm injury. He’s pitched 63 fewer innings than Wheeler. Kevin Gausman stumbled out of the All-Star break, allowing 11 runs in 11⅔ innings in his first three starts. Wheeler has a sizable innings advantage over him, too. At this point, Wheeler has as good a chance as any National League starting pitcher to win the award. Walker Buehler looks like his stiffest competition.
“Vintage Wheeler out there doing his thing,” Harper said. “I’m not shocked. Pure dominance today.”
The length the Phillies got from their ace Sunday was important. It was the Phils’ 26th game in 26 days and the bullpen has been taxed during the winning streak. Coming into Sunday, closer Ian Kennedy and setup man Archie Bradley had each been used five times in seven days.
"Our guys need it," Girardi said. "I think you see the toll it took. That’s a really rough stretch. Physically, there’s a lot of guys that need it. Our bullpen needs it. That was so big from Wheeler because our whole bullpen is getting two whole days off."
At 2 hours and 20 minutes, it was the Phillies' shortest nine-inning game since June 12, 2019.
They are off Monday for the first time since July 19. Their longest stretch of consecutive games the rest of the season is 13 in a row in late September. Having the next three Mondays off will allow the Phillies to skip the No. 5 spot in their rotation a couple of times. They’ll do so this week, with Aaron Nola starting Tuesday, Kyle Gibson Wednesday, Ranger Suarez Thursday and Wheeler Friday. They’ll have to figure out Saturday.
The next two series will be challenging. The Phils have three-game series at home against the Dodgers and Reds. They do get a break by missing Buehler. They were initially scheduled to face Buehler and Max Scherzer in the first two games of the L.A. series but Buehler started Sunday. The Phils draw Scherzer Tuesday and David Price (who is mostly serving as an opener) Thursday. Wednesday is TBA.
The Reds have raked in the second half. They lead the majors in runs scored and OPS since the All-Star break. Joey Votto leads the majors with 12 home runs in the second half and leadoff man Jonathan India has been on fire as he pushes toward the NL Rookie of the Year award. They also got slugger Nick Castellanos back this week.
But first up is a day of rest for the 59-53 Phillies, the hottest team in baseball.
"It’s time to go," Harper said. "It’s time to win ballgames and play well. We’ve got a while to go so we’ve got to stay locked in."