CLEVELAND — Nine long years later – wearing another team’s fabrics, working on another team’s staff – he extracted revenge on the ballclub that pushed him out the door. Once the heir to the Mets empire, Scott Kazmir now wore the robes of an avenging angel. He appeared anxious to show his old franchise it was foolish to let him go.
In his first career appearance against his former organization, Kazmir pitched with the bloodless confidence of a man driven to prove his worth. The Mets’ former first-round pick tossed six scoreless innings, helping the Indians roll to an 8-1 win over the Mets on Friday night at Progressive Field.
He entered the game with pedestrian statistics. In 24 previous starts, Kazmir had given up 132 hits in 130 innings. His ERA was 4.36.
On Friday, he looked bulletproof. He struck out 12 hitters, his highest total in six seasons.
By stringing together strikeouts the way the Mets once envisioned he could, Kazmir (8-7) ripped apart the Mets lineup. He outdueled Mets rookie Zack Wheeler, a man who carries the same burdens and pressures that were once placed upon Kazmir’s shoulders.
Kazmir, of course, never made it to the majors with the Mets. With the team in a pennant race during the 2004 season, the Mets shipped Kazmir and Jose to Tampa Bay in exchange for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.
The deal was widely panned. It may explain why the Mets have been so hesitant to part with a plum prospect like Wheeler.
In this duel of Mets prospects – one plucked from the past, one embedded in the present – Kazmir was doing a better job of imposing his will. He began putting together a pile of strikeouts, then padding that pile with at least one during each of his six innings of work.
Kazmir faced four batters in the first inning. He struck out three.
He faced five batters in the third inning. He struck out three.
By the end of the fifth inning, Kazmir had eight strikeouts. After his first two trips through the Mets lineup, only two batters – Lucas Duda and Justin Turner – did not have a letter K perched next to their names in the scorebook.
Unlike Kazmir, Wheeler looked to be laboring. Michael Bourn, an outfielder the Mets courted this past offseason, landed the first blow: a leadoff single to open the game.
Nick Swisher singled. Jason Kipnis walked. Three batters into the game, Wheeler was caught in a bases-loaded, no-outs pickle.
To his credit, Wheeler sustained only limited damage. He retired the next three hitters he faced. But a Carlos Santana sacrifice fly put Cleveland ahead 1-0.
Cleveland tagged him twice more, scratching out an unearned run in the second and an earned run in the fifth. A Wilmer Flores throwing error led to the second-inning run; a Santana single nudged home the run during the fifth.
After five innings, Mets manager Terry Collins pulled the plug. His team trailed 3-0. Wheeler had thrown 92 pitches.
Ever since Matt Harvey went down with an elbow injury last month, Collins has taken precautions to guard Wheeler’s arm as best he can.
“I just want to make sure when this season’s over that Zack Wheeler’s healthy… and that what he’s learned in the last two months is going to help him be a better pitcher next spring,” Collins said before the game. “If that’s the case, then we’ve certainly done our jobs here.”