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He Can be Harvey, Just for One Day

Before Saturday’s game, I noticed a new billboard plastered along the avenue of commerce [1] that serves as Citi Field’s outfield fence. It touted EAST COAST POWER & GAS. Clearly it referred to the home team’s starting pitcher.

Good to see the Mets making some very bold statements.

Offspeed blends notwithstanding, we know Matt Harvey [2] can bring the gas. Nine strikeouts over seven increasingly impressive innings attested to his most important renewable resource and his ability to turn it into an adequately efficiently fuel capable of generating just enough electricity to keep an entire stadium operating at a low hum. Matt’s first two batters walked and homered, staking the Diamondbacks to a distressingly quick 2-0 lead. Matt’s next 26 batters, including the seven who reached base via single or walk, failed to score behind them. At 109 pitches over seven frames, it may not have been classically clean-burning, but it surely proved sustainable.

You can’t talk about Harvey without talking about his pitching, but now that we’ve talked about his pitching, we can talk about his hitting.

Matt Harvey has power. We usually mean he has the power to attract attention, mostly through his pitching, sometimes through whatever magnetism separates very good pitchers from highly marketable commodities. As a product, Harvey tested through the roof in 2013. As a pitcher, Harvey’s admitted to experiencing “more ups and downs [3] than I expected or wanted” in 2015, his first season after Tommy John [4] surgery. Pitchers are entitled to feel their way back. We get antsy, however, when highly marketable commodities show flaws.

On the other hand, we get giddy when we discover they come fully loaded with features we’d only dreamed about.

Did you know Matt Harvey can hit home runs? Well, he can hit a home run, but now that he’s hit one, I’m sure he can hit more. Of course I’m sure. The whole point of a Matt Harvey is to be absolutely certain of what he can do. Other Mets give you an idea they can do something spectacular and you hopefully infer that maybe they can do more. Harvey does something once and you assume he will repeat it, enhance it and draw disproportionate notice for it.

As he should. We need a guy like that, and not just for the thrill having a guy like that. He lets as many as 24 other Mets, regardless of how well (or poorly) they’re doing, fly under radar, which probably doesn’t bother too many of them. The radar is too busy trying track Harvey.

Saturday he hit a ball where the radar couldn’t automatically detect it. He hit it over the outfield fence, the same one that promised EAST COAST POWER & GAS. Not over that sign, precisely, but the effect was the same: powerful.

I was going to say “explosive,” but you don’t want that from a source of power, let alone gas, do you?

I’ve been on hand for several Met pitcher home runs over the years and they usually follow the same trajectory. There’s a swing; there’s a fly ball usually closely parallel to a nearby foul line; the ball sort of hangs in the air for a minute as if it doesn’t know what it’s doing aloft. The ball is all like, “What — where do I go now?” It’s almost embarrassed by the attention. Eventually it has no choice but to quit traveling and land somewhere in the stands. The pitcher who hit it seems equally embarrassed as if he didn’t mean to hit it and now doesn’t mean to trot. (Somebody should check the parking lot where Shea used to stand — John Maine [5] may be still circling the bases from 2007 [6].)

It wasn’t like that with Matt Harvey’s fifth-inning home run. Matt Harvey’s fifth-inning home run was a solid line drive. From my perch high in 512, I knew it was going somewhere. I figured double off the wall if it didn’t caught, which would have sucked. Actually, because it was the pitcher…particularly because it was this pitcher…it would have sucked just a little had it been merely a double. Eric Campbell [7] was on first and quite possibly would have scored the tying run had it been a double, but still. Matt has doubled five times in his career. He’d never homered. Put aside what you know about fractions. A double wouldn’t have been half as good as a home run here.

And then it was gone. Or it seemed to be. David Peralta [8], who hit the home run that put Harvey behind in the first inning, was determinedly gesticulating. Way up in Row 12, I thought he was insisting it bounced over the advertising-laden wall for a ground-rule double. Then I remembered it’s 2015 and what you can’t keep from going out of the park you can always try to bring back by video replay review.

Now I got it. There’s that orange stripe, then there’s that railing, there’s some kid with a glove. If I were David Peralta, assuming I wasn’t deeply ashamed of myself for having homered off of Matt Harvey earlier, I guess I’d gesticulate determinedly and beg intrusive technology to give my team back those extra two bases. Harvey would be on second, which would be kind of cool, except Campbell would go to third, and the Mets would still be down, 2-1, and Juan Lagares [9] — for whose bobblehead my pal Joe and I were in attendance in the first place — would be up and Patrick Corbin [10] would get out of the inning because, let’s face it, Corbin was mostly impenetrable until the fifth and Lagares’s bobblehead didn’t exactly portray him with a bat in his hands. Lucas Duda [11] had gotten to Corbin to start the inning, but otherwise the Mets were being the Mets: all pitch, very little hit, how about some luck?

You don’t need luck when the cameras capture reality. Harvey’s liner was well above that orange stripe and was going to hit that railing if the kid with that glove hadn’t made a nice (if not Lagarish) catch. It was still a home run hit by the starting pitcher. It was almost a second home run hit by the starting pitcher in my mind, considering my initial confusion. Joe and I high-fived a few extra times to certify that it really and truly counted as four legitimate bases.

Harvey didn’t seem the least bit shy about circling them, by the way.

I mentioned Duda homered, his second in two days. Also, Ruben Tejada [12] hit a home run in the sixth; it carried like the kind Bobby Jones [13] hit that one time in 1999. Bobby Parnell [14] and Jeurys Familia [15] provided solid relief. Tejada and Wilmer Flores [16] continued to look like a steady double play combination. Lagares didn’t hit at all, but his bobblehead was properly fitted with a nifty Gold Glove. Jacob deGrom [17] smilingly accepted our applause when he was presented his All-Star batting practice jersey (appropriate given how Met pitchers obviously make good use of their BP). So yes, there were other Mets who were elements of Saturday’s winning experience [18] — but they all flew under radar.

Who notices anybody else when Matt Harvey is in full flight?

Given Harvey’s recent inability to replicate 2013 on command, I’ll admit to a little worry as the game developed. Matt was down 2-0 and looked (to me) uncomfortable. Dan Warthen [19] had to visit the mound. I half-expected Ray Ramirez to follow. Where Ray Ramirez goes, the Grim Reaper is bound to check in soon enough. None of that happened, and Harvey found his groove, but I wasn’t taking any chances. My own fully reasonable concession to superstition was to delete the phrase “Harvey Day” from my vocabulary, whether spoken or electronic. It seemed a bit dated suddenly, like the NEW TWERK CITY tank top I saw some girl wearing inside the Herald Square station the other day. Besides, every time I psyched myself up for Harvey Day, either he’d get hit surprisingly hard or it would rain incessantly [20].

Thing is, you can’t let a Harvey start pass you by as if it’s just another day. The home run that put him (and, oh yeah, his team) ahead reminded me attention must be paid. When he returned to pitching in the sixth and seventh, it was Harvey Day as it ever was. If I’d brought a cowl, I would have donned it in salute. After he threw his 109th pitch, the 4-6-3 grounder that got him through the seventh, I leapt to my feet in applause, then stayed on my feet to stretch. When “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” got rolling, I heard myself ad-lib an admittedly cringey lyric without even intending to:

Root, root, root
For MATT HAAAR-VEEE!!!

And, of course, the rest of the home team. You know, the guys who play baseball alongside Matt Harvey. They may not get entire days, but they have their moments, too.