Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic. — Bull Durham
The forecast was ominous: likely rain.
The raindrops remained at a respectful distance, because they — like the rest of us — wanted to watch Matt Harvey pitch.
This game didn’t have the early crackle of some of Harvey’s “event” showcases — the showdown with Stephen Strasburg that Citi Field stole with its spontaneous “Harvey’s better” chant, or the evisceration of the White Sox, to name but two. But it might have been even more impressive: Harvey mixed his pitches to bewilder the Rockies, getting them to pound ball after ball into the ground. Every few pitches Harvey was turning his head to glance with what seemed like mild curiosity at a ball ticketed for the glove of Quintanilla or Flores, and then he was walking off the mound again. (The game was done in a tidy 2:20, a welcome relief from recent sloggy Metsian miniseries.)
And yet while Harvey “only” struck out six, he was basically unhittable — Greg and I got to our seats a bit late, but the only hard-hit ball we saw all night was the one that Charlie Blackmon fired off Harvey’s kneecap with an out to go. (Harvey said it grazed him, which was nonsense, but he shooed Terry Collins and Ray Ramirez away with the Seaverian disdain we’ve come to love.)
By the late innings the crowd was revved up and driving Harvey along, with a brief pause to roar for Wilmer Flores’s double lashed into the left-field corner to drive in three and put things out of reach. (Flores’s pudgy face, I-dunno-what’s-under-this-cap mullet and expression of faint amazement remind me a bit of Mackey Sasser.) An entertaining thing to watch for on the replay of the big hit: Ike Davis comes around third with so much acceleration that he can’t really stop, winds up flinging drive-by high-fives at Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd and then nearly decapitates poor Manny Corpas, who’s gone from backing up the plate to trying to extricate himself from a horde of Mets.
The crowd was listed at 27,581, which normally means shy of 20,000 actually there, lots of empty seats and a quiet house. But this 27,581 felt reasonably close to the actual number, and they were loud and boisterous and having fun. It was nice to look up and see them, and hear the cheers bouncing around the stadium with impressive volume.
Sure, it was a Harvey start and a beautiful night, but I’m left feeling optimistic.
Plenty of things haven’t gone right for the Mets this year, starting with Johan Santana’s injury and proceeding to regression or stasis for Davis, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda. And until the Mets prove that the financial goalposts have stopped moving, no one is going to trust what ownership or their representatives say about future payroll or competitiveness.
But the young starting pitching is coming along very nicely, and while the offense isn’t world-beating, at least the Mets are playing hard, with a bit of bounce in their step. I still think Eric Young, Jr. is more like the player the Rockies didn’t want than the player he’s looked like in a perilously small sample size for us, but when he scored from second last night and leapt halfway into outer space, I laughed out loud on the couch and clapped my hands. Baseball’s fun, and fun’s contagious.
We’ve never seen Citi Field on a nice summer night with something to play for. The Mets have a lot of work to do before that can happen. But you see flashes in games like the ones the Mets have played the last two nights — previews of baseball like it oughta be, and one day will be again. And that day that may not be as far away as we sometimes fear.
I mean, ya gotta believe, right?