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Dreamy deGrom, Nightmarish Harvey

Your East Coast Based Late Night West Coast Correspondent is an unreliable narrator regarding the bulk of Friday night’s Mets-Padres affair, at least from approximately the top of the second to sometime in the bottom of the sixth, for YECBLNWCC indulged in a 75% nap. I had the game on the radio, and definitely absorbed all of the first inning, understanding that the Mets were ahead and Jacob deGrom [1] was on. Then, like an AM signal fighting off interference, I was in and out of whatever Howie and Josh were telling me, most of which I sleepily understood as deGrom continued in command.

When I returned to a legitimate state of awake in the sixth, I heard Jake retire the first two hitters — the second of them Eric Hosmer, whose presence in San Diego caught me unawares in the moment as if I was Lucas Duda on some other night — and wondered if a no-hitter was in progress. Our announcers were so impressed by deGrom, it seemed possible. Alas, when Christian Villanueva singled with two out, I learned it was the Padres’ third hit of the evening. Also, I learned there’s a Padre named Christian Villanueva.

The recurring anonymity of the San Diego team wasn’t necessarily a barrier to their prospective success at the Mets’ expense. Bartolo Colon’s slugging notwithstanding, the Padres at Petco Park have kept in reserve an under-the-radar Marlins Park-type whammy with which to constantly clobber the Mets in last innings over the last decade. No way deGrom and the Mets should lose to Villanueva and the Padres when deGrom is rolling.

Should, though, is a terrible barometer for what happens to the Mets when deGrom is rolling. They don’t score enough for him (I guess Clayton Richard was pretty decent, too), he dares to leave the mound, he bequeaths his lead to the arm of another and, geez, can you frigging believe we lost that game? One-nothing was not that comforting a margin to rub the sleep out of my eyes with.

Four-nothing, however, was absolutely dreamy. Asdrubal Cabrera [2] whacked the first pitch newly inserted Craig Stammen threw him with two on in the top of the seventh over the right field wall at Petco, and I had the feeling we’d have nothing to bark about when this game was over.

Then, having transferred myself to the television, I saw Matt Harvey [3] come on in the ninth with a 5-0 lead and decided I shouldn’t be too hasty in my contentedness. DeGrom had gone seven-and-a-third shutout innings, Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos hadn’t given anything up in the eighth and Jose Lobaton doubled in the run that would make a theoretical immediate grand slam non-lethal. This should have been the hour to collect on our Petco Points and call it a night.

Yet Harvey.

Harvey the reliever.

Harvey the crankily media-diffident.

Harvey who could not have been put into less of a game situation had his name been Corey Oswalt and he was making his major league debut when most reasonable hope was lost.

Harvey whose last ninth inning ended when the coincidentally present Hosmer doubled and a 2-0 lead was cut in half.

Granted, Hosmer had already batted in the eighth. He took Blevins very deep to right, but not so deep that Michael Conforto couldn’t reel in his ultimately harmless fly ball. But let’s just say the circumstances weren’t promising. And the results weren’t all that encouraging, either.

No, the game didn’t get away, and that’s not nothing. DeGrom actually got one of those W’s staring pitchers earn but don’t automatically receive just because they deserve it. The Mets won, 5-1 [4], staying in first place by a half-game ahead of the preternaturally relentless Phillies. Eric Hosmer never came to bat, which means he never got to third, which means he didn’t take off for home on a grounder Wright cut in front of Flores to field and throw to Duda. The technical result was what we wanted.

The Harvey result was grim. No movement on his fastball. A leadoff homer surrendered to Franchy Cordero, a Padre not quite as well known as Christian Villanueva. A walk to the similarly low-profile Jose Pirela. Familia stirred in the bullpen. Acid stirred in the abdomen. Matt Harvey still pitching in the ninth, as late as November 1, 2015, used to be one of the most electrifying sights in a Mets fan’s world.

This was turn off the lights, slip under the covers and try to forget what you just witnessed. Harvey not having his stuff and not having a reason to be on the mound other than he’s gotta be somewhere was almost as much of a bummer as the hypothetical Padre rally that never materialized. When Matt was starting and regularly getting in trouble in 2016, 2017 and the first weeks of 2018, you willed yourself to figure maybe it would be OK. Maybe it will be just a matter of time before he figures it out. If he was having a bad third inning, he’d get it together in the fourth. He’s Harvey.

Or he was.

As a reliever in the ninth when all he had to do was get three outs without giving up five runs, there was no satisfying exit point on the horizon. The best-case scenario at 5-1 and a runner on first was “maybe he won’t blow it.” He didn’t. Matt went on to get a fly ball, a double play grounder and the right to shake hands with teammates as the pitcher responsible for nailing down the victory. But it did not seem like a step in any kind of right direction. I didn’t want him out there like this. I was glad he consented to communicate with the working press who are just doing their jobs when they approach him, but listening to him answer questions that all essentially asked “when do you think you might not suck?” was painful. Not as painful as reflexively recalling the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2015 World Series, but surely an emotional poke to the ribs (of which Harvey has one fewer than most people since his thoracic outlet surgery).

Between the bottom of the ninth and the postgame media scrum, I found myself wishing Matt Harvey could be transported to another baseball team. Not “I wish he’d go away” or “they oughta cut the bum,” but “don’t make him go through this in front of us.” Perhaps if I believed the Callaway-Eiland method to repair all that’s gone awry was leading somewhere, I’d just say, fine, let’s find and fix that elusive mechanical glitch. But that’s not what’s happening here. This is Matt Harvey as no longer “Matt Harvey”. This is Matt Harvey pitching only when he can do his team the least harm.

This version of Matt Harvey feels reminiscent of Tug McGraw in the summer of 1973 and Oliver Perez from the balance of 2010. McGraw famously found himself in ’73 (ironically using a trip from the bullpen to the rotation to divine his way back to the late innings), but he reverted to a mess in 1974. His New York days were done. The Phillies traded for him, discovered he was injured, got him an operation and enjoyed ten years of Tug, including the night he preserved their first world championship. Perez was infuriating and useless in his last year as a bullpen-banished Met, but he’s been having a useful career ever since. The Yankees signed the reborn lefty specialist to a minor league deal in Spring Training; write your own charming conclusion to that alliance. Neither Tug’s nor Ollie’s careers were close to over when we bid them adieu.

Matt Harvey is a professional pitcher who will likely continue to pitch professionally after 2018. I don’t have the credentials, insight or chutzpah to definitively dismiss his future potential one month into his age 29 season. I’m also not two-faced enough to totally turn my back on him, not when I still have two regularly worn t-shirts that have his name on their backs. (He remains in my rotation even if he’s not in Mickey’s.) A 29-year-old professional pitcher is entitled to his downs, especially after providing us with such a sublime stretch of ups when he was 23 and 24.

Am I entitled to wish he could attempt to work his struggles out somewhere else? Isn’t “for better or for worse” implied when we subconsciously take the vows of fandom? Players leave us for big contracts all the time, but we get that. We lose patience with players who aren’t succeeding all the time, too. I get that. This moment strikes me as a grayer area. I sympathize with Harvey’s circumstances — primarily stemming from, let us not forget, three season-stopping injuries since 2013, two of which required serious surgery — even if he doesn’t present himself as a sympathetic character. I’m tempted to say it’s his fault for attracting attention even when he doesn’t seem to want it. I should be sitting here the day after deGrom’s masterful start and Cabrera’s clutch homer dwelling on them, but deGrom and Cabrera have mostly kept their personalities to themselves. I listened to their postgame interview sessions. Jake and Asdrubal were each cordial, polite and said basically nothing. DeGrom has a glint in his eyes when he pitches. Cabrera allows himself a happy hop when he connects. Their work speaks in suitably complete paragraphs.

Harvey we’re always listening to for more, watching for more, staying awake for more. Maybe we’re realizing it’s time to put this particular fixation to bed.