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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Before He Goes Away

I don’t know what’s wrong with Matt Harvey. Neither does Dan Warthen, or Terry Collins, or Sandy Alderson, or Kevin Plawecki, or Matt Harvey himself.

The weird thing is, suddenly that’s no longer as important as what happens next, which is that Matt Harvey be made to Go Away.

Not so long ago, Harvey had managed to navigate his way to a fairly happy ending after a tumultuous summer. He’d shut the door on his agent’s innings-limit controversy and brought the Mets to the brink of returning the World Series to Kansas City, with a puncher’s chance at riding Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to victory in seven games. It didn’t happen, but the blame went to Collins for letting his heart rule his head and Lucas Duda for a startled throw that went awry. The Mets were booted into winter, but Harvey had more than done his part to prevent that.

And now, just 10 starts after what looked like the final act of his redemption, he’s going to be exiled. His baseball Elba is to be determined. So’s the official reason for his being sent there. But it’s coming.

As with Monday’s game, Tuesday was a repeat engagement between pitchers: Harvey against Stephen Strasburg, tormented in better days at Citi by a spontaneous chant of “Har-vey’s bet-ter.” Strasburg was better at Citi last week, by a decent measure, and Tuesday night, alas, was no antimatter affair: Strasburg was better again.

Harvey had said the right things between starts, talking about fighting and not quitting, and in Tuesday’s early innings he looked OK — he even took a 1-0 lead into the fourth thanks to an Asdrubal Cabrera homer. After a couple of good plays were made behind him and a couple of flat pitches were popped up instead of driven out, I even dared myself to hope that the BABIP gods might be giving their whipping boy a break — perhaps a simple regression to the norm luckwise would get Harvey back on track.

But the early innings haven’t been in the problem this year. As if on cue, Harvey spit the bit in the fourth, and in depressing fashion: he threw a hovering change-up to Ryan Zimmerman that turned into a game-tying home run, then offered Anthony Rendon essentially the same ineffective pitch, with the same grim result. A fifth-inning sacrifice fly from Bryce Harper made it 3-1, and then Daniel Murphy simply demolished a flat fastball, hitting it on a line into the second deck in right field.

That made it 5-1, and Harvey’s night was officially a disaster — one he compounded by being absent for interrogation by the press corps a couple of hours later.

On that last point my sympathies lie more with Plawecki than with the scribes: the catcher had to follow a lousy night at the plate with helpless non-answers on behalf of a teammate, while the writers were handed free lighter fluid for their hot takes. Harvey ducking the firing squad has nothing to do with heart/grit/manitou/midichlorians or whatever other mystical substance Wednesday’s papers will insist he lacks — he has more or less the same amount of that as every other professional athlete, or he never would have reached this level. On the other hand, Harvey has now touched the same PR hot stove twice — and if he thinks the blister he got for his mumbling about innings limits in September was painful, the damage inflicted by Tuesday’s no-show will be worse.

Harvey has go somewhere in small measure to appease the mob but in larger measure to stop the machine that’s chewing him up, and that neither he nor anybody else can shut off right now. Maybe that place is the bullpen for side sessions and low-leverage assignments. Maybe it’s Port St. Lucie because of [insert vague ailment here]. Maybe it’s Las Vegas because everyone will be in a mood for truth-telling. I’m not sure it really matters or that I particularly care.

What I care more about is that we don’t know what part of the story we just read. Maybe it’s the bump in the road after the opening chapters, the setback that complicates the hero’s journey and forces him to learn something new about his quest and himself. That kind of story can end in triumph and adoration. That would be nice. Or maybe this is the fall into darkness closer to the end, the one where bad things happen to a character who turns out not to be the hero after all, but a supporting character undone by poor decisions or bad luck. I don’t particularly want to read that story, but you and I are the audience, not the narrator. All we can do is wait to discover what happens next, whether that’s in five days or 15 days or some date to be determined.

41 comments to Before He Goes Away

  • Steve D

    There was a clue to all this in the World Series…in Game 1, he threw 20 straight pitches under 90 MPH. I recorded it here for later reference. Of course that was a huge red flag, but he rebounded in his second start and we all forgot.

    Here is what I would do now. Send him for a head-to-toe MRI. If that is clean, we are dealing with a valley in Tommy John recovery, compounded with mental issues. He needs to be humbled, stop partying so much and dedicate himself to working hard. Strasburg had the same problems last year and is now looking great again. Use that for motivation. He probably should accept a 2-3 start stint in the minors to start the process.

    • Jacobs27

      You’re right, Steve D. And it sure would be nice to have something medical to go on besides Harvey’s word that he “feels fine”.

      But if it’s not specific structural damage, then the best way to address it is less clear. I think the Mets ought to at least try resting him.

  • Jacobs27

    Ugh. I agree, Jason. Gotta hope against hope he pulls a Strasburg-from-last-season when he gets back from wherever whenever. (Although preferably without the anti-matter version of Kelly Johnson taking him deep in the 8th despite his 13 K’s en route to an N.L. East victory. I still can’t believe that’s the last time Strasburg actually lost!)

    The homer to Murph hurt, and it was poor execution by Harvey. But what got me the most were those inexplicable inside change ups to Zimmerman and Rendon in the 4th. What was he thinking? The first one was a dubious enough call to begin with, but to come right back with it to the next batter? Huh? That’s when you know it’s in a guy’s head.

  • Matt in Richmond

    All very well said Jason, and I don’t disagree. Something needs to change. But the man can still throw 96 and is merely months removed from 8 scoreless WS innings. I find it next to impossible to believe that he can’t rebound from this malaise. I’m sure you’ve seen the comparison between his start to this year and Strasburg’s start last year. Eerily similar. He went on the dl, twice actually I believe, and since August has been one of the 3 or 4 best pitchers in baseball. Of course that doesn’t mean the exact same is in store for Matt, but I think a similar resurgence is not out of the question.

  • ljcmets

    Someone over the last few days invoked a name I hadn’t heard in years…..Steve Blass….and I gave an involuntary shiver. Personally I don’t care at all that he didn’t stay around for his mandatory dose of humiliation (although I did feel bad for Plawecki.).

    No sermon today…..just say a prayer for Matt Harvey.

    • DAK442

      The name I’d rather invoke is Bobby Jones. Got sent down to work on stuff, came up and killed it. Trachsel too, to a lesser degree.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Seems to me he’s just flinging the ball up there. Sometimes there’s this totally lackadaisical follow thru too. Ron Darling was talking about his “cupping” the ball during his windup, which he said he wasn’t doing before the Surgery. But I think he was doing that last year with no problem. I’ll say it again: Steve Blass.

  • Gil

    I listened (don’t shame me) to boomer and carton this morning saying it was chewing tobacco. All bets are ON. Maybe, just maybe, he has cat scratch fever.

    I was a bit surprised at Murphy pimping his home run. And he most certainly pimped it. It looked like Dan and his replacement, Neil Walker had some words a little bit later in the game. The Mets have made it abundantly clear that they aren’t interested in the bean ball retribution game, but man… I sometimes yearn for the old days when he would have just gotten plunked there in the next at bat for showing up the pitcher, especially an ex teammate. Matz doesn’t seem like a guy that would put one on Murphy’s hip, but I wonder if a certain Viking with long blonde hair noticed? Even if it was just a little chin music and a glare in, the Mets can’t let that slide.
    Howie on the radio for me at the office today. Lets take 2 of 3, exile Matt for however long it takes, and turn the page. We have a pennant to win.

  • Steve D

    Don’t understand the Steve Blass analogy…he lost the ability to throw strikes. Harvey has lost the ability to miss bats. Teams hit .510 against him third time through the order. His whole body looks to be moving in slow motion during his delivery. He never had perfect mechanics IMO…he shows the ball to second base, when you are supposed to show it to third base. That puts stress on the elbow.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Again: you talk about “malaise” and Ronnie with the “cupping the hand” and on and on. As I’ve said: It is so clearly the over-use last year after he “shut down his agent’s innings limit.” No, it was not just his agent’s–it was his own, and common sense, and following actual studies of pitchers 1) coming back from TJ surgery 2) any young pitcher with big jump in innings. What more evidence do you need? Yes he can still throw 96 briefly in early innings–but always, and again last night, he is down to 91-93 very, very quickly and then getting bombed–what does a .520 bstting average against him starting in 4th inning tell you? It may not be an “injury” but simply arm or elbow fatigue. You can say it can’t be proven, sure, but how much evidence do you need? And yet clueless Mets even considered sending out there a day EARLIER to pitch this week. It just compounds his mental woes, telling him (Mets announcers complicit as well) that nothing’s really wrong with him, it just is something he has to “figure out.”

    • Rob E.

      First of all, it’s NOT “clearly” overuse…Tommy John himself threw 207 innings his first year back and 950+ the next four seasons; Adam Wainwright threw 198 his first year back and 460+ the next two seasons; Tim Hudson threw 228 IP his first full year back (he had his surgery in August and pitched in September the next year). Other guys like Jarrod Parker never come back, and others like Ryan Madson take years to come back. They don’t KNOW how individual pitchers recover. Results are improving, but it’s not a perfect system.

      Secondly, I’m tired of hearing about overuse during pennant races and postseasons. What was your solution last year? The Mets were NOT reckless with this guy. They kept playing because they kept winning. Somebody has to throw those playoff and World Series innings. That’s the whole point…it’s what both fan and player dream of. It’s been that way for more than 100 years and it was never a problem when Yankee and Dodger pitchers were throwing extra innings every year in the 50s, or Oakland and Pittsburgh pitchers in the 70s, or the Yankees again in the 90s.

      The Mets are certainly not above being clueless, but they are at least trying to find an answer where there is no obvious one.

      • Greg Mitchell

        Poor examples. Tommy John was a junkballer and at mid-career. Wainwright was 29 and unlike Harvey had previously had years where he threw 220 or 230 innings. Tim Hudson was 34.

        Really, you are comparing modern pitchers to ’50s and ’60s? Wish it was apt.

        Feel free to ignore the studies that show that the vast majority of pitchers who shatter innings limits follow with bad years. Does not “prove” Harvey another case but certainly suggestive. And as I wrote, it indicates why he would have strong stuff for 2 or 3 innings and then suddenly lose it. What, his mechanics suddenly got bad? Forgets how to pitch? Or I love the “second time through lineup they have gotten a good look at him.” Yeah, that’s why he becomes basically a batting practice pitcher then.

    • Matt in Woodside

      I think everyone agrees that fatigue from last season could possibly be a factor. But as several people have been pointing out here, Strasburg had a similar start last season. He ended May on the DL with some phantom neck injury, with an ERA well over 6. And that was three years after his return from TJ surgery. No one could explain it. 2015 ended up being a bit of a lost season for him, but obviously he has gotten things straightened out.

      Harvey was 18 months removed from surgery when the 2015 season began, and his starts, pitch counts, and innings were VERY carefully managed all year. The team did nothing wrong. When they made it to the postseason, Syndergaard and deGrom were also blowing past their prior innings records (and deGrom has also had TJ surgery), but no one was advocating for either of them to be shut down.

      I understand that Harvey’s injury was more recent, but when you’ve got a young staff like this, and there’s always the possibility that someone could get hurt or fatigued, what is the team supposed to do? Have Colon and Niese anchor the postseason rotation so we’ve got a better shot at a couple of extra wins this spring?

      • Greg Mitchell

        Strasburg only rebounded BECAUSE they shut him down twice last year. Also he has had very successful career likely BECAUSE they did not wreck it by making him pitch in those playoffs. Thinks Nats fans are complaining now?

        Noah and DeGrom did not have TJ surgery recently so no comparison with Harvey. Also note that DeGrom’s fastball is “nysteriously” way down this year so far.

        Why mention Niese? No way he would have gotten a start. Colon would have. Harvey’s starts in playoffs were so-so and non crucial until final game of Series–which they lost–after he talked his way into staying in, probably because of all the charges of being “gutless” that summer. Similarly he talked himself into a foolish start this week.

        • Rob E.

          I think the Nats fans will be complaining all the way to their graves, as will Strasburg. And it will always be a black mark on his career.

          And again, we don’t know why Strasburg turned it around. It could be a million things. If it was just the innings, then it would happen to EVERY pitcher who goes through it. Since it doesn’t, that means there exceptions and other factors which we will probably never know about. Results during recovery vary wildly.

        • Matt in Woodside

          You note that deGrom’s fastball velocity has been down to start the season, with the implication that it may be due to fatigue from the postseason. This is exactly the point that Rob and I are arguing. Last year, Syndergaard pitched 65 more innings than his previous record. deGrom pitched almost 40 more. Conventional wisdom says that’s not the ideal way to handle pitchers. But it was the postseason. If you manage the staff in October focused exclusively on prior innings limits and potential fatigue in spring 2016 and whatnot, you would have been left with Niese, Colon, maybe Verrett, and Matz (who only had innings to spare because he was returning from injury).

          Also, as I’ve said before, this whole argument about how Harvey should’ve been handled eight months ago is moot unless his career is truly over, ruined by four or five games that never should have happened. I don’t think that will be the case. For now, though, he needs to be in Binghamton or St Lucie getting things right, because he’s not helping himself or the team by getting shelled out there.

  • Stephen Kairys

    Bobby Jones and Steve Trachsel both benefitted by a short stint in the minor leagues. Hopefully, the same can happen with Harvey, if the Mets go that route.

    #LGM

  • Seth

    Daniel Murphy will haunt us in ways that haven’t been invented yet.

  • eric1973

    Verducci’s done studies that say this was inevitable, regarding TJ surgery and big jumps in innings over the year before. It just seems time will take care of everything, so it doesn”t appear the minor leagues would help, because there could be nothing to gain.

    Maybe he could be a middle reliever, or a 7th-8th inning guy for a few months, but that idea is too crazy to even ponder.

    • Rob E.

      I actually agree with that. Maybe not for that long, but sometimes just doing something DIFFERENT turns a guy around. Also, he can approach pitching in a shorter stint differently. Maybe he figures something out or gets his confidence back along the way. It’s probably crazy in “baseball-think,” but on the surface it seems reasonable enough.

  • Anyway, it’s been announced Matt will make his next start, scheduled for Monday afternoon vs. Mets’ traditional rivals the Chicago White Sox. Let’s hope Memorial Day doesn’t blow taps on his career.

    • Lenny65

      “Mets’ traditional rivals”….spit take. Now THAT’S funny! What’s not funny: Matt is now the sixth-best starter on the roster (probably). I dunno, but maybe it’s time to stop “throwing him out there” and send him off for some rehab-rest-whatever. I’ve seen Steve Blass mentioned but no, he’s no Blass (or Rick Ankiel), those guys totally lost the ability to pitch at all, they weren’t just suddenly very hittable. I remember Ankiel in the 2000 playoffs, he had trouble finding the catcher let alone the strike zone. Poor guy was throwing pitches into the screen, the crowd, the ground, it was disturbing to see.

      Then there’s the other big problem, the lineup dotted with AAA-level bats. I have no idea how they work around that. A few days ago I mentioned 1987, a season where much was expected and where nothing went as planned. This year reminds me a little of that one, not exactly but similar in a way.

  • sturock

    Nothing much to add here. I still think he’s hiding an injury or maybe he’s just tired. The Mets would be wise to put him on the DL, let him get some rest, and work out in Port St. Lucie. He’s obviously not “pitching through it.” That’s not working right now and it’s creating a drama every five games.

  • Dave

    Wouldn’t be the Mets, or Harvey, without some sort of drama. As for what’s wrong with him, the answer is all of the above and none of the above and everything in between.

    As for him skipping out on the media that was 100% guaranteed to have exactly zero new questions to ask that would be responded to with zero new answers, screw it. He’s already given them plenty to write about for 4 years. He can recite Greenlandic poetry to them for all I care. They’re going to write what they’re going to write whether he stands there answering their pointless questions or not.

  • Lenny65

    Uh, based on a quick headline scan, it’d probably be advisable to avoid the countless “hot takes” being published today re: Harvey, as the guy is basically being dissected and skewered to bits today. I mean I’m not particularly pleased about his woes either but come on, bashing the guy certainly isn’t going to help much. He’s fat, he “parties” too much, he’s been “coddled”, it’s absurd.

    I remember the old story about Tug McGraw in 1973, apparently he was getting shelled on a regular basis and no one knew what to do, so Yogi gave him a start over the summer and it kind of jarred him back into form somehow. He was golden after that. The point being that you never know, Harvey could vanish for a month or whatever and come back like the Harvey of old.

  • argman

    I think Gregg’s points are legitimate, but I have to disagree somewhat with the premise. The Mets hadn’t won a World Series in 29 years (as of last fall), and you NEVER know when you’re going to get back there, so the thinking should be to go for it when you can. If you had told me in November of 1986 that the group that had just won it all would not get back to the WS I would have been shocked. A million things can happen in a baseball season, so sacrificing it when you are so close doesn’t make sense in my view.
    As for Strassburg and the Nats/Expos, that franchise still hasn’t reached a WS, let alone win one. I’ll bet if you told them a few years ago that they could trade a WS appearance and shot at the title for an uncertain future, most of them would have gone for the former. Agents think about the long-term future, but players (and fans) concentrate on the present.

    • Greg Mitchell

      Yes, if you told Nats “uncertain future,” that’s one thing. If you told them, “will be star for years (even deserving a zillion dollar long-term contract)” you’d get a different reaction. What is in between? Common sense and at least partial faith in track record of other pitchers. I’ll say again: if Harvey got shut down in August the Mets would have still gone to World Series (where they lost even with him).

      Also note: Terry himself in press conference just now admitted Matt is “still recovering from last year.” So there you are. Yet his answer: “Let’s pitch him again in six days!”

      • Dennis

        “I’ll say again: if Harvey got shut down in August the Mets would have still gone to World Series (where they lost even with him).”

        Maybe….maybe not. In hindsight that’s so easy to say. You have no idea what the absence of Harvey from August on would have had on the psyche of the team as well as those pitchers that would have taken his spot in the rotation. Those pitchers maybe would have been shelled, putting additional strain on the bullpen, which could have had steamroller effect on the rest of the rotation. You just cant isolate his games and think the same results from the others would still have occurred.

  • Eric

    Just because the bulk of media/fan blame went to others for 9th inning, WS game 5 doesn’t necessarily mean Harvey was not traumatized by falling down in the crystallized BIG moment of his baseball career.

    Harvey was intensely amped for the seminal moment. I don’t think he got over failing in it.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Everyone who is commenting on this situation with any degree of certitude, I would refer you to the title of yesterday’s column “Nobody Knows Anything”. Theory after theory, all about as useful as a warm cup of spit. If I had to pick the least useful, I would say the idea that this is a byproduct of overuse last year. Give me a break. Sure didn’t seem to be bothering him in the WS where he utterly dominated. Teams have been handling young pitchers with kid gloves for a while now and the results are all over the place. Some do well, some get hurt, some seem to have rubber arms and flourish with more use. I seriously doubt there is a doctor in the world that could pinpoint overuse as the cause of Matt’s current struggles, let alone an armchair observer.

  • Steve D

    The velocity drop is not a good thing, but I don’t think is the main problem…if his breaking pitches had any movement, he wouldn’t be getting shelled to this degree. I have also noted that umpires are not giving pitchers even an inch off the plate anymore, lest they be embarrassed by pitch track. They get embarrassed enough with so many of their plays being overturned.

  • eric1973

    I think the ‘overuse’ of everyone last year was proper, as it is necessary when trying to win a WS. So I would simply use the term ‘use’ instead.

    Would never shut down anyone, and if guys are ‘hungover’ the next year, than so be it.

    Also, these guys have not been brought up to pitch 200 (?) innings anymore, so this is something we may need to get used to.

    • Dennis

      All great points eric!

    • Lenny65

      No win situation. If Harvey shut it down last season before the playoffs Bart or Niese would have gotten starts. If they got shelled Harvey would be the villain for not “gutting it out” and, if he started out this year just as poorly he’d be getting hammered even more than he already is. “Shutting down” your number one starter for the playoffs doesn’t make sense especially given how our Mets normally make the playoffs once a decade or so.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Another sterling effort by Mr. Matz. I don’t know if it’s his low key demeanor or what, but he’s somehow managed to post near historic numbers and simultaneously fly somewhat under the radar. Great to see. Also great to see the Captain coming up huge at bat and in the field again. Rumors of his demise, greatly exaggerated.

    • Eric

      And Familia maturing as a closer. This time last year, there was an even chance he would have been rattled by 2 hits to start the 9th and lost control. Now, he keeps his cool and bears down. Good work by Rivera behind the plate, too; the RBI was a nice bonus. More playing time for Rivera and give d’Arnaud a crash course at 1B on his rehab assignment.

  • rich porricelli

    no shut down..let him find it..Hes not a liability yet..Look at the standings and its only late May..

  • NostraDennis

    Whatever the reason(s) for Harvey’s 2016 failures, this much is certain and indisputable.

    Mets record in Harvey starts: 3-7

    Mets record in not-Harvey starts: 24-12

  • […] Day, but it was easy to overlook his role in the story. The attention was on Matt Harvey, who wasn’t banished to the bullpen or the DL or Vegas or Tartarus but sent back out to face the White Sox. He did so in […]