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We’re Not Doctors

Matt Harvey this afternoon told reporters, “I’m not a doctor.” At last I can confirm I have something in common with someone I heretofore assumed was everything and could do anything.

Matt’s not a doctor, so he can’t say much about the partial UCL tear heard ’round the world [1] except that his right forearm had been feeling tight and now he was in the middle of a press conference talking about how he won’t be pitching for a while. I’m not a doctor, so I would be talking out my hat if I pretended to know that the tightness in question was a five-alarm harbinger of the elbow injury that now sidelines him for god knows how long, or simply the kind of business-as-usual situation that afflicts those who throw baseballs for a living along with those whose sacred charge is to nurture their careers. I’m also not one of the best pitchers on the planet, never mind also not being the fulcrum upon which the fortunes of a Major League Baseball franchise pivots.

Harvey is all that. He’s an out-of-the-box icon to those of us of who wrapped our hearts in orange and blue long before we ever fell under the spell of the Mystic Mystique. He made being a Mets fan exponentially better in 2013. He was going to make being a Mets fan outstanding in 2014. He and we were going to have a long and beautiful mutually beneficial relationship. Well, it was going to benefit us and we planned to bathe him in gratitude for eternity.

We might still make beautiful baseball together, but there’s going to be a gap while Matt’s elbow is tended to and there’s going to be uncertainty in the interim. Surgery is not certain. A return date is not certain. His eventual effectiveness for when he pitches once more…we can only hope.

Only hope is all we as Mets fans can ever do.

You could’ve pulled Harvey after five innings every five days for four months and then sent him home with an icepack and it might not have helped. I’m still not a doctor, a trainer, a physical therapist or remotely athletic, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s impossible to prevent hard-throwing young arms from experiencing tightness. And I doubt that Bobby Ojeda was wrong when he analyzed Matt Harvey’s situation as such: pitchers pitch in pain — they call it discomfort, but it’s pain; it’s the price of admission to being a professional. You can invoke Tim Leary [2] all you want, but unless every start is Wrigley in April, you never can tell and you can’t fully shield them from the physical dangers lurking sixty feet, six inches from home plate.

Last night on Breaking Bad, the removal of airplane ashtrays and the proliferation of children’s bicycle helmets were bemoaned as a sign of the discouraging times. “I look at that,” creepy Todd’s creepy uncle lamented, “and I say what the hell happened to this country?” I sometimes feel that way about pitch counts [3]. Tom Seaver threw 18 complete games as a rookie and 20 seasons with no significant time missed until he was 35. Seaver likes to say they had pitch counts when he was coming along, except the pitch count for him was specific to him, not Koosman, not Ryan, not anybody else. Seaver as a young Met icon was never put on the shelf unless you count the 25,000 Tom Terrific bobblehead likenesses handed out Sunday. I’ve got one of those on my shelf right now and I bathe the actual Seaver in gratitude every chance I get.

Nevertheless, telling a pitcher in his early twenties to go out there and “throw like Seaver for as long as Seaver” probably isn’t an answer. I’m not sure what exactly is. Harvey’s injury could have been prevented with infallible prescience, a commodity that tends not to exist in the Mets organization or life its own self. Presumably Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins would have a better handle on this than us mere civilians, but they had a young pitcher who was as strong as a horse, as stubborn as a mule, as determined as a bulldog and as talented as Matt Harvey.

When he looked just a little off [4]for a couple of starts, it was as unreasonable to assume something was going terribly wrong as it would be to expect Superman to be at the top of his game in every single panel on every single page. When he looked extraordinarily mortal against the Tigers [5], you figured something along the lines of “fatigue,” which is how Harvey identified it afterwards. The Mets were going to limit his innings anyway. This was just a sign that the limit was nigh. Or so it seemed. Maybe his internal maximum had already been surpassed without us knowing it. Maybe it was just one of those things that was going to happen sooner or later, not necessarily because one of these things inevitably happens to the Mets in our minds.

Come to think of it, the Mets as a team might want to put an innings limit on their seasons from now on. Perhaps try capping them at around July 25.