ATLANTA — After a long day at Turner Field, the future suddenly looks a lot brighter for the New York Mets.
Just imagine Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler at the top of the rotation for years to come.
"I hope people saw this," said manager Terry Collins, no doubt referring to New York's long-suffering NL fans. "Certainly they're going to enjoy watching these two guys for a long time. They're going to be around."
Wheeler lived up the hype in his major league debut, pitching six scoreless innings to lead the Mets to a 6-1 victory over the first-place Atlanta Braves and a doubleheader sweep on Tuesday night.
In the opener, Harvey didn't allow a hit until the seventh and struck out a career-high 13 as New York held off the Braves 4-3.
"I had some jitters going at first," said Wheeler, who went back out to sign autographs in his full uniform after the game. "Then I settled down a little bit, probably the fourth or fifth inning I think it was, found a rhythm, settled down, and I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes."
Wheeler gave up only four hits and struck out seven while consistently reaching the upper 90s on the radar gun. He struggled a bit with his control, walking five, but got out of every jam.
The performance was especially sweet since it came not far from where Wheeler grew up and came to prominence as a high school star at East Paulding High School in Atlanta's northwest suburbs, before going in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft.
He was cheered on by dozens of family and friends, who roared loudly from their seats behind the Mets' dugout. Also watching from a second-row seat behind home plate was former Braves star Chipper Jones, who sat with the young pitcher's parents. Jones and Wheeler have the same agent.
"It was definitely an experience," Wheeler said.
He was shaky in the first, walking two while throwing 23 pitches — only eight for strikes. Catcher Anthony Recker strolled to the mound to offer encouragement, and pitching coach Dan Warthen trotted out when Wheeler overthrew a pitch to B.J. Upton, the ball sailing far out of the strike zone. Third baseman David Wright also came over to offer some advice.
"You've got this," he told Wheeler. "You're better than them."
Upton grounded out to end the threat, and the 23-year-old right-hander — the first child of the 1990s to play for the Mets — came back the next inning to strike out the side.
Recker, hitting just .158 coming into the game, broke up the scoreless duel between Wheeler and Paul Maholm (7-6) in the seventh, crushing his second homer of the season over the center-field wall to put the Mets ahead 2-0.
The Braves responded with a run of their own in the bottom half on Justin Upton's sacrifice fly against Brandon Lyon.
But New York broke it open with a four-run eighth against Anthony Varvaro, taking advantage of some shaky defense. The Braves made two errors on one play when Varvaro's pickoff throw to second base was low, skidding into center field, and B.J. Upton let it slide under his glove while racing into back up the play. Marlon Byrd came all the way around to score by the time Upton retrieved the ball.
Juan Lagares added an RBI single and Omar Quintanilla finished off the Braves with a two-run hit.
It was a bruising day for the older Upton. In the fifth, B.J. collided with Justin after catching a fly ball to left-center. Both were knocked to the ground but weren't hurt. B.J. gave his sibling a playful shove on their way back to the dugout. No one was laughing when it was over.