Heilman soars as Mets stay hot

Heilman soars as Mets stay hot

NEW YORK -- It is the refrain that has been sung by Mets pitchers dating back to the club's inception in 1962: "Oh, if not for that one hit."

Ask any Mets historian and they'll tell you with just a twinge of regret in their voice that no pitcher has ever reached the promised land -- by firing a no-hitter with the word "Mets" emblazoned across his chest.

Call it the curse of Nolan Ryan or whatever you will, but entering Friday night, many have came close but have not been able to seal the deal.

On 27 different occasions, various Mets pitchers have thrown one-hitters, with names ranging from Al Jackson (the first) to Tom Seaver (five times) to Steve Trachsel (the most recent).

Aaron Heilman, welcome to the club.

Heilman (1-1) tossed a shutout on Friday, holding the Florida Marlins to just one hit -- an infield single by Luis Castillo in the fourth inning -- as the Mets extended their winning streak to five with a 4-0 victory at Shea Stadium.

"That's the way I feel like I should pitch all the time," said Heilman, a quiet right-hander with an affinity for reading.

On this night, the book on Heilman was simple: Florida couldn't hit him.

Back to using the three-quarters motion that made Heilman a hot commodity and the darling of the collegiate baseball world at Notre Dame, the hurler put his split-finger fastball and slider on display to show exactly why the Mets selected him with their first-round selection (18th overall) in the 2001 draft.

Heilman retired the first nine batters to face him, and eight of those were via groundball or strikeout -- music to a sinkerball pitcher's ears. Heilman did not allow a baserunner until he hit Juan Pierre on a bunt attempt to start the fourth inning, and the righty seemed to get stronger as he went along, fanning the side in order in the eighth.

"I felt good about it," said Heilman, who has worked extensively with pitching coach Rick Peterson since Spring Training. "I have a little more deception, a little more life on the ball. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable, and it certainly helps."

"He bore down and made the pitches he needed to make," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He stayed focused and it seemed like he had a really nice rhythm. This was his game."

With one out in the ninth inning, Heilman walked Castillo but induced Miguel Cabrera to ground into a game-ending double play, preserving his sterling 107-pitch, 66-strike outing.

In all, Heilman struck out seven batters, tying a career high set on August 12, 2003, against San Francisco. He said that he was aware of the one-hit shutout effort as he walked to the mound for the ninth inning.

"Thoughts always creep into your head," Heilman said. "You try to block it out as much as possible. I turned my focus to making pitches."

The lone hit by Castillo was equivalent to a swinging bunt, with Cairo having to charge it and attempt a barehanded play from second base, but it was clearly a safety and the official scorer never hesitated to call it as such.

"I went in and got it, but I should have used my glove," Cairo said. "When I got there, it was hit a little harder than I thought. I should have used two hands."

While Heilman will no doubt savor the success of Friday evening, he is already looking toward his next effort. Peterson stopped by for a brief chat at Heilman's locker, offering some aspects that Heilman can improve in subsequent starts.

   Aaron Heilman  /   P
Born: 11/12/78
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"This is a process," Heilman said. "The process doesn't stop. The only time the process stops is when you retire. Hopefully, I'll get a lot more time to make adjustments, improving and getting better."

The Mets staked Heilman to a lead in the first against Florida starter Josh Beckett (2-1), putting their soon-to-be-patented brand of Willie-ball back on display.

Jose Reyes led off by slicing a double to right. He then advanced to third when Beckett couldn't handle Cairo's sacrifice bunt. One batter later, Mike Piazza hit a run-scoring groundout, and Doug Mientkiewicz brought home Cairo with an RBI single to center, giving New York the only lead they'd need.

The Mets extended the advantage to 4-0 against Beckett in the fifth, with Piazza lacing a two-run double -- his second two-base hit of the evening -- into the left-field corner.

With the pair of hits and three RBIs, Piazza cracked out of an early-season skid that saw him batting 6-for-30 (.200). He also just missed his second homer of the year with a fly ball to the warning track against reliever Brian Moehler in the seventh.

"I hit that ball really well," Piazza said. "You just have to slow down and trust yourself. You never have this game completely licked. It's a constant thing."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.