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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.

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A Hurler's Plan B

Somehow Matt Harvey‘s in his seventh season as a New York Met.

Which means he’s seen some shit.

Some of the troubles that have attached themselves to Harvey like so many barnacles have been typical New York bullshit, ginned up by the profoundly cynical sports-talk industry for which our town is ground zero. But some of them have been entirely his fault. Late nights and studied pissiness and outsized personas are fine if you win — just ask Keith Hernandez and the rest of the ’86 Mets — but if you don’t deliver, you’ll find those moments turned into brickbats. And you’d better duck.

The rise of Noah Syndergaard turned Harvey into the last thing he ever imagined he’d be — an also-ran, his light outshone by a pitcher younger, more comfortable in his own skin, and most importantly better. If you’re feeling uncharitable, you could call that karma. Lord knows I’ve thought it a time or two.

But I take no satisfaction — not even the meanest, bitterest sort — in the physical horrors that Harvey has had to endure. First came Tommy John, which has become so routine that we forget it can still be a career killer and not just an unwelcome sabbatical. Next came thoracic outlet syndrome, which is about the farthest thing from routine. Harvey came through the former; he has struggled mightily with the latter, as has every pitcher who’s been struck down by it.

I can’t imagine being robbed of the thing I’m best at and love to do, the thing I’ve worked my entire life for. That’s what’s happened to Harvey. The arm that once delivered 98 MPH fastballs with evil movement no longer can do that. The breaking stuff that was a perfect complement to that heavy, tumbling fastball has become inconsistent. Nothing that was once so effortless for Harvey is anything close to reliable now, and perhaps it never will be again.

In St. Lucie Harvey was an afterthought — a candidate to be cut late in the spring, if things had gone badly enough. His upside has shrunk correspondingly. Back in the days of “Harvey’s better” and his ferocious World Series performance, the one that went on just a bit too tragically long, we muttered bitterly about how Harvey would leave us for a mega-payday in Yankee pinstripes. Now, a comeback year in 2018 might mean a incentive-laden deal from some mid-market team.

Infatuation, awe, exhilaration, fury, despair, bitterness … they were all a long time ago. These days most Mets fans regard Harvey with weary indifference. He’s important to our fortunes, diminished though they are by injuries and skinflint ownership, but we don’t trust him enough to invest much hope in him. We want him to succeed, but if he hits a rough patch we’ll turn our eyes to Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo (who looked terrific following Harvey to the mound, incidentally) or Robert Gsellman.

As Harvey took the mound last night in the cold and mist, I thought to myself that a few years ago such weather conditions would have meant some luckless spot starter was thrown to the wolves in his place. But that was when Harvey was a key part of the Mets’ golden future, and not a by-default part of their uncertain present. It was his turn, so he trudged out to the mound against the Phillies, and we didn’t exactly hold our breath, because that day is gone too. We just folded our arms (good idea on such a night) and waited skeptically.

And Harvey … did pretty well.

The performance wasn’t one to elicit hosannas. The fastball sat at 92 to 93, which somehow has become pedestrian in this era of godlike hurlers. Nobody on either team was particularly thrilled about hitting. The ball wasn’t exactly traveling. The strike zone was a little big.

But Harvey’s location was superb — and more importantly, it looked like he was pitching to a plan. He limited the Phils to one hit over five innings by staying doggedly away from the middle of the plate, bedeviling hitters with high fastballs and breaking stuff on the corners. It wasn’t a night for rearing back and throwing it by someone, but it’s entirely possible Harvey has seen his last such night. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll look back at this wintry no-decision as the night he accepted that, and started turning Plan B into a reality.

5 comments to A Hurler’s Plan B

  • Dave

    I have, on several occasions, posted here and elsewhere my belief that Harvey est fini, that the damage to his body can’t be overcome. I wouldn’t have minded if they had non-tendered him over the winter. If last night was a kid gloves, twice through a so-so batting order first step in proving me wrong, great. Look forward to what he can do next time out. Even if “outsized persona” and “pissiness” are perhaps kind euphamisms.

  • Peggy

    Playing in New York can affect people in different ways but unfortunately in NYC we still have tabloids. The moment I realized Harvey was seeing himself as a celebrity I knew he had succumbed to the Joe Namath symptom except that Joe only had to play once a week and was in fact rather entertaining. The whole New York thing..the models, the trendy clubs and the no doubt copius offer of complimentary drinks was fine until one day they have to rout you out of bed and remind you that you should actually be at the ballpark. Nevertheless he handled his injury exile well and I for one was happy to see him back. All is forgiven kid!

  • Daniel Hall

    Hey, I have been around the Mets since roughly the time they drafted Matt Harvey. And, indeed, I, too, have seen some shit.

    Wheee…?

    I haven’t seen him pitch all year long, but he’s long become the “brace for the worst” type of pitcher for me. You know, like Jon Niese. The worst is all that will ever happen to him. And the Mets. But especially him. I think the only bollocks injury that he hasn’t had yet was poking himself in the eye while wiping off the sweat.

  • Gil

    The darkest hour is right before the dawn. Would be great to see him on Sunday night baseball getting a W for the sweep. And it will also be great to see the Mets on TV again.

  • open the gates

    Most power pitchers whose names are not Nolan Ryan come to a point in their career where they need to change their game from power to guile. It happened a bit early for Harvey. He seems to be doing what he’s supposed to do, he kept his nose clean during Spring Training and said all the right things. If he’s fortunate, and works hard, he could turn himself into a reliable third or fourth pitcher, maybe without the strikeouts but with a good ERA and going deep into games. Long, lucrative careers are built on such things. I think he realizes that the Dark Knight is history. And, in some respects, good riddance.