The Mets lost 2-1. Nobody cares. Nobody would have cared if they’d lost 130-1, or if they’d won 130-1. That’s because the Mets and all of us were staggered by today’s asteroid-hits-the-mammals news out of Citi Field.
And here’s a bit of news: I know why Matt Harvey got hurt. Look at this picture I took two days ago of my kid here on Long Beach Island. A couple of seconds after I snapped it, I looked at my iPhone and thought, That’s goddamn depressing — it’s like Joshua’s watching Harvey burn on a Viking funeral boat.
Weird, weird foreshadowing. I think I knew his elbow was hurt right there.
What’s that you say? There’s no possible causality there? Agreed. But there isn’t much more causality in blaming Terry Collins, or Dan Warthen, or Sandy Alderson, or Bernie Madoff, or anybody else. The Mets have been careful about Harvey’s innings, about his pitch counts, and about a whole lot else — sometimes to his annoyance and ours. Pitching is inherently destructive to ligaments that were never designed to do what they’re asked to do. It is unnatural and dangerous — whether you’re a bite-and-scratch journeyman like Jeremy Hefner or a lightning-armed demigod like Matt Harvey.
Here’s Rob Neyer on overuse — go Google Harvey’s college coach or high-school coach or his Little League manager and blame them. As Greg noted, we’re not doctors. But speaking of doctors, only a handful of them know more about pitchers’ elbows than Frank Jobe, the man who opened up Tommy John’s all those years ago. As Terry Collins explained earlier today, the Dodgers held a retreat on pitchers’ workloads and injuries that included Jobe, and at the end Jobe had this to say: “No matter how hard you try, if they’re going to break, they’re going to break. And there’s not a pitch count or an innings limit you can designate to ever save them.”
Weirdly, Tommy John surgery is now a specter that looms over the game because it allows pitchers to return. Lots and lots of pitchers before 1974 tore their UCLs. The difference was it was a death sentence then, or a ticket to junkballer purgatory: Guys developed a “sore arm” and disappeared, with whatever potential they’d once had vanishing with them, rarely if ever remembered. (Go look up Dennis Musgraves.) Now, pitchers return from their date with the elbow doctor — as injury expert Will Carroll notes in the Neyer piece above, a third of MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that count’s probably low because it misses guys who got cut in high school or before, as they increasingly do. Rather than dismiss sore-elbowed pitchers and forget about them, we wait in impatience and agony for them to return.
When he eventually agrees that the surgery is needed (as I hope he does soonest), Harvey will be gone for a year. A year is a long time, but it’s not actually forever — it just feels like it now. As Jesse Spector notes, Stephen Strasburg’s elbow surgery — which was every bit as shocking and horrifying to Nats fans as the Harvey news is to us — was three years ago Tuesday. Nor is Tommy John surgery the awful spin of the wheel that it used to be: Strasburg’s rebuilt elbow has logged 383 Ks in 339 1/3 innings.
It sucks, there’s no getting around it. I tried to think of worse news that a Mets fan could have heard today, and this was the best I could do: Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler got into a fight with broadswords and severed each other’s right arms at the shoulder. OK, that would have been worse. But that at least wasn’t remotely a possibility. A pitcher going for an MRI and receiving terrible news, unfortunately, is a possibility after every single outing.
Maybe it’s just the eternal Weeble wobbling of being a Mets fan, but here’s a faint glimmer of a silver lining: The Mets probably weren’t going to compete in 2014 either. They were headed into the offseason trying to figure out how to fill a ton of holes in the offense to match their solid young starting pitching. That’s a product of the failure of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada to develop into complementary players, as it looked like they might a year ago. The free-agent market doesn’t look great for filling those holes, even if the Wilpons actually agree to write checks. Those holes could be filled by trading away young pitching, but what looked like a surplus yesterday looks more like insurance today. And while a healthy Harvey would have had no limits on his innings, Zack Wheeler and whatever new rookie arrived (Noah Syndergaard? Rafael Montero?) would have faced those limits. (There’s an echo of Strasburg again.)
So with Alderson’s timeline trashed, perhaps the Mets can use 2014 to get the hitting and the pitching in sync. Perhaps they can use 2014 to figure out who plays first: Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Josh Satin, or none of the above. Perhaps Tejada uses 2014 as a last chance to emerge or become somebody else’s problem. Perhaps Juan Lagares uses it to grow at the plate the way he has in center field. Perhaps it’s a good thing for Travis d’Arnaud to see his average rise along with his confidence handling a pitching staff. Perhaps 2014 sees another outfielder step forward from the minors. Perhaps we wind up pleasantly surprised by the hitting, as we had been by the pitching before today’s news.
And maybe Harvey returns, triangular scar and all, in late September for a cameo, and we go into that offseason talking about how the hitters have stepped up more than we thought they would, and how great it was to see Harvey back and throwing hard even if it was only for a rusty five innings and 80 pitches, and how we can’t wait for 2015.
I know it’s not what we wanted to dream about, but here we are. Let’s hope it’s a dream deferred, not denied.
If that didn’t cheer you up a teeny bit, here’s a fun SNY feature on the Grand Slam Single, including contributions from Jason. That game remains the second-biggest thrill I’ve ever had at the ballpark.