Commentary

Pelfrey becoming an ace before our eyes

Stephen Strasburg got all the attention Tuesday, but the Mets have a rising star, too

Updated: June 9, 2010, 12:05 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Mike Pelfrey was honored long before he took the mound and showed how a No. 2 wheels and deals like a No. 1. As the Mets were trying to find ways to make their first-round pick, Matt Harvey, sound Stephen Strasburg-strong, they recalled that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

They said the seventh overall pick from the University of North Carolina reminded them of a former ninth overall pick from Wichita State.

Rudy Terrasas, the Mets' director of scouting, called Harvey big and durable, a whiz kid out of Mystic, Conn., capable of throwing 156 pitches in a single college game before short-circuiting a radar gun on his 157th. Terrasas didn't need to look far and wide for his exclamation point.

[+] EnlargeMike Pelfrey
AP Photo/Seth WenigMike Pelfrey dropped his ERA to a spectacular 2.23 on the season.

"He's kind of in the mold of Mike Pelfrey," he said of the prospect.

So at his locker Tuesday night, after Ike Davis rewarded his nine innings of one-run work with the 11th-inning homer that beat the Padres 2-1, Pelfrey was asked why a franchise that until recently wasn't sure he could be a credible No. 2 starter now scours the countryside for future Mike Pelfreys.

"I heard he touched 98 [miles per hour]," Pelfrey said of Harvey's fastball. "That's something you can't teach."

You can't teach the kind of grit and savvy required to take the ball without your best stuff and still beat a first-place Padres team, either.

"They had to draft somebody," Pelfrey said with a shrug. "Big, power arms -- you can mold those guys."

Have the Mets molded Pelfrey, or has he molded the Mets? It was a moot question after the home team built the season's second nine-game Citi Field winning streak around the current ace in future ace's clothing, a young pitcher who delivered a performance that would have made the younger Strasburg proud.

On the night baseball's latest phenom struck out 14 and walked none for the Nationals, Pelfrey reminded everyone why the Mets made him a top-10 pick five years ago.

"The ball wasn't really jumping out of my hand," Pelfrey said.

He didn't have his four-seamer humming in the mid-90s for much of the night, and there was no problem with that. Pelfrey helped give the Mets their 19th victory in their past 23 home games by embracing a realtor's sales pitch.

It was all about location, location, location.

"He can manage and navigate his way through a major league game," Jerry Manuel said, "and that's very impressive for a young pitcher."

At times in 2008, Manuel said Pelfrey was about as dominant as any starter in the game. "When you see that domination," he said, "you've got to have hope and the expectation that it will come back."

Pelfrey opened 4-0 in 2009, then unraveled with the rest of his team. When Manuel watched him surrender too many homers early in spring training this season, the manager was burdened with doubt.

But then Pelfrey started 4-0 again, took his beating in Philadelphia like a man, and hasn't lost since. So with the Mets down 1-0 and Pelfrey scheduled to hit in the seventh, Manuel gave his starter the benefit of the doubt.

"He would've had a big fight on his hands [if he didn't]," said Pelfrey, who had thrown only 75 pitches at that point, "because I wouldn't have been too happy about it. I definitely didn't want to come out of the game. I didn't even think of coming out of the game."

After Jose Reyes' tape-delayed homer made it a 1-1 game, Pelfrey notarized Manuel's faith by making two mini-crises go poof in the night. In the eighth, with a man on second and David Eckstein choking all the way up to the barrel, Pelfrey struck out the league's hardest player to whiff; Eckstein walked to the plate with one strikeout per 32.7 plate appearances.

David Wright betrayed the cause in the ninth, cutting loose a brutal throw to first that landed Scott Hairston on second. "Hey, pick me up right here," Wright told Pelfrey.

"I just looked at it as, 'The guy's on second base and I'm not going to let him score,'" Pelfrey said.

On cue, he blew away Nick Hundley and convinced Will Venable to hit a pathetic little bouncer to the mound.

On the way back to the dugout, Pelfrey patted his heart and heard the crowd of 30,086 shower him with love. He felt Wright rap him on the rump with his glove before asking Manuel if he could go back out for the 10th if needed.

The manager called it a night at 103 pitches. Later, when Davis slammed his game winner over the right-field wall, Pelfrey was in the weight room icing his right arm.

Someone turned on the TV, the starter said, "and [Davis] was running around the bases. I didn't get to see the pitch."

It didn't matter. Nor did the issue of whether Pelfrey should be considered an ace or an ace-to-be.

"The biggest thing is I show up to the park and I expect to win," he said. "Every time I go out there I've got a W on my mind."

Pelfrey wasn't Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night, and he wasn't quite the pitcher he's often measured against, Matt Cain, who threw a complete-game shutout at the Reds.

But Pelfrey did outpitch another comparable, Phil Hughes, and he did it with a little John Wayne swagger. At 6-foot-7, Pelfrey came across big enough and tough enough to earn an OTA invite from Rex Ryan, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before spending all 11 innings in a seat behind home plate.

"Big, strong guys with big arms," Pelfrey said. "I think that's what this franchise wants."

Actually, they want big, strong guys with big, strong hearts. A figurative 15 minutes after wondering if they even wanted one Mike Pelfrey, the Mets are praying they've drafted a second.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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