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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Joker 1, Dark Knight 0

The Mets lost 2-1. Nobody cares. Nobody would have cared if they’d lost 130-1, or if they’d won 130-1. That’s because the Mets and all of us were staggered by today’s asteroid-hits-the-mammals news out of Citi Field.

And here’s a bit of news: I know why Matt Harvey got hurt. Look at this picture I took two days ago of my kid here on Long Beach Island. A couple of seconds after I snapped it, I looked at my iPhone and thought, That’s goddamn depressing — it’s like Joshua’s watching Harvey burn on a Viking funeral boat.

Weird, weird foreshadowing. I think I knew his elbow was hurt right there.

IMG_3449What’s that you say? There’s no possible causality there? Agreed. But there isn’t much more causality in blaming Terry Collins, or Dan Warthen, or Sandy Alderson, or Bernie Madoff, or anybody else. The Mets have been careful about Harvey’s innings, about his pitch counts, and about a whole lot else — sometimes to his annoyance and ours. Pitching is inherently destructive to ligaments that were never designed to do what they’re asked to do. It is unnatural and dangerous — whether you’re a bite-and-scratch journeyman like Jeremy Hefner or a lightning-armed demigod like Matt Harvey.

Here’s Rob Neyer on overuse — go Google Harvey’s college coach or high-school coach or his Little League manager and blame them. As Greg noted, we’re not doctors. But speaking of doctors, only a handful of them know more about pitchers’ elbows than Frank Jobe, the man who opened up Tommy John’s all those years ago. As Terry Collins explained earlier today, the Dodgers held a retreat on pitchers’ workloads and injuries that included Jobe, and at the end Jobe had this to say: “No matter how hard you try, if they’re going to break, they’re going to break. And there’s not a pitch count or an innings limit you can designate to ever save them.”

Weirdly, Tommy John surgery is now a specter that looms over the game because it allows pitchers to return. Lots and lots of pitchers before 1974 tore their UCLs. The difference was it was a death sentence then, or a ticket to junkballer purgatory: Guys developed a “sore arm” and disappeared, with whatever potential they’d once had vanishing with them, rarely if ever remembered. (Go look up Dennis Musgraves.) Now, pitchers return from their date with the elbow doctor — as injury expert Will Carroll notes in the Neyer piece above, a third of MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that count’s probably low because it misses guys who got cut in high school or before, as they increasingly do. Rather than dismiss sore-elbowed pitchers and forget about them, we wait in impatience and agony for them to return.

When he eventually agrees that the surgery is needed (as I hope he does soonest), Harvey will be gone for a year. A year is a long time, but it’s not actually forever — it just feels like it now. As Jesse Spector notes, Stephen Strasburg’s elbow surgery — which was every bit as shocking and horrifying to Nats fans as the Harvey news is to us — was three years ago Tuesday. Nor is Tommy John surgery the awful spin of the wheel that it used to be: Strasburg’s rebuilt elbow has logged 383 Ks in 339 1/3 innings.

It sucks, there’s no getting around it. I tried to think of worse news that a Mets fan could have heard today, and this was the best I could do: Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler got into a fight with broadswords and severed each other’s right arms at the shoulder. OK, that would have been worse. But that at least wasn’t remotely a possibility. A pitcher going for an MRI and receiving terrible news, unfortunately, is a possibility after every single outing.

Maybe it’s just the eternal Weeble wobbling of being a Mets fan, but here’s a faint glimmer of a silver lining: The Mets probably weren’t going to compete in 2014 either. They were headed into the offseason trying to figure out how to fill a ton of holes in the offense to match their solid young starting pitching. That’s a product of the failure of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada to develop into complementary players, as it looked like they might a year ago. The free-agent market doesn’t look great for filling those holes, even if the Wilpons actually agree to write checks. Those holes could be filled by trading away young pitching, but what looked like a surplus yesterday looks more like insurance today. And while a healthy Harvey would have had no limits on his innings, Zack Wheeler and whatever new rookie arrived (Noah Syndergaard? Rafael Montero?) would have faced those limits. (There’s an echo of Strasburg again.)

So with Alderson’s timeline trashed, perhaps the Mets can use 2014 to get the hitting and the pitching in sync. Perhaps they can use 2014 to figure out who plays first: Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Josh Satin, or none of the above. Perhaps Tejada uses 2014 as a last chance to emerge or become somebody else’s problem. Perhaps Juan Lagares uses it to grow at the plate the way he has in center field. Perhaps it’s a good thing for Travis d’Arnaud to see his average rise along with his confidence handling a pitching staff. Perhaps 2014 sees another outfielder step forward from the minors. Perhaps we wind up pleasantly surprised by the hitting, as we had been by the pitching before today’s news.

And maybe Harvey returns, triangular scar and all, in late September for a cameo, and we go into that offseason talking about how the hitters have stepped up more than we thought they would, and how great it was to see Harvey back and throwing hard even if it was only for a rusty five innings and 80 pitches, and how we can’t wait for 2015.

I know it’s not what we wanted to dream about, but here we are. Let’s hope it’s a dream deferred, not denied.

If that didn’t cheer you up a teeny bit, here’s a fun SNY feature on the Grand Slam Single, including contributions from Jason. That game remains the second-biggest thrill I’ve ever had at the ballpark.

14 comments to Joker 1, Dark Knight 0

  • Steve D

    I’m actually more depressed now, because in 2015, he’ll have a strict innings count and be shut down as well. You are looking at 2016 at the earliest until he can lead us into the post-season.

  • Barry F.

    Try never. August 26, 2013 The Day The Music Died

  • Dennis

    “Pitching is inherently destructive to ligaments that were never designed to do what they’re asked to do. It is unnatural and dangerous — whether you’re a bite-and-scratch journeyman like Jeremy Hefner or a lightning-armed demigod like Matt Harvey.”

    Summed up perfectly Jason.

  • open the gates

    Well done,Jason. Thanks for talking us down from the ledge.

  • Dave

    A Phillies fan friend (yes, can be such a thing) told me he was sorry to hear this, that it was fun even for him to watch Harvey pitch. Then he said, “you never know what you’re going to get with TJ surgery.”

    To which I said, “I’m a Mets fan, I always know what I’m going to get…the exact opposite of the desired result.” I didn’t need to be talked down from the ledge, I’m just resigned to reality.

    • sturock

      Easy… So many pitchers have come back from TJS it’s almost as if the surgery is a rite of passage: Mariano Rivera, Adam Wainwright, Steven Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, AJ Burnett, Tim Hudson, Charlie Morton (he’s actually pretty good now…), etc.

      This sucks but I believe Harvey will come back and he’ll be what he’ll be.

      Meanwhile, Wheeler looks better each time out and Syndergaard and Montero are on the way. 2015 could still be a nice year for us.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Is Sandy’s “timeline” really trashed? As much as we are devastated from the loss of Harvey, it is really not the big blow to the team as it appears. The Mets are still deep in proven and potential pitching strength.

    Last night’s game only reminded us what our real problem is – no run scoring. We could have 13 Matt Harvey’s on the team and it would make no difference if we could not muster up the runs necessary to support them.

    Did Sandy really have a “timeline” as suggested? What I don’t like is the talk. Before anyone says the Mets are on schedule with their “plan” and will be back into contention in 2014 as Kevin Burkhardt keeps telling us on the pre-game show, let the Mets actually show they have what it takes to put themselves back into contention first before doing the talk. We still have no hitting and as many as five positions that need to be addressed (the outfield, shortstop and first – BTW, Byrd was claimed by a national league team on waivers so now we have to see if the Mets work out a deal for him or not). Talk is cheap – ask Rex Ryan.

    If SNY was simply saying it was the Mets “hope” of getting back into contention in 2014 – rather than saying it was plan the Mets had all along and it was indeed now on schedule – I would feel less resentment. They talk about the future as if it is a lock rather than a goal they have been working toward and are confident it will work out. No matter how good this staff is, this has been an incomplete plan from the start for unless the rules have been changed to reflect the NHL or NFL, nobody gets anything for a 0-0 game and as mentioned, there are just way too many holes to fix that even free agency won’t resolve.

    But at the same time, if 2014 was the timetable the Mets had in mind, I would like them to explain why two or three months back the same SNY people were telling us we should not expect instant success, that re-building takes a lot of years and because the Mets will not have possible big outfield bats ready for a few more years it would not be in the Mets best interests to sign free agents this off-season and thus waste money as it would best to wait, give the kids a chance to get their feet wet and take their knocks and see what they could do. They referred to this as “growing pains”.

    So first we’re told the plan was for a few years down the road and now we’re being told the plan was on schedule for 2014?

    These were not my words – this is what we were told by SNY – which is owned by the Mets and of course their own mouthpiece.

    • Was reacting to Martino’s article, where 2014 was discussed as the goal.

      I thought that was reasonable until Davis, Duda and Tejada all took steps backwards this year. Now it’s looking like 2015 on both hitting and pitching paths.

      Be interesting to see what today’s rumored trades are. Would be pretty happy to see the Mets get anything for the short-term pieces they have.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Jason,

        I think Davis not being the Davis we thought he was is going to hurt us more than the absence of Matt. But don’t forget – Sandy also indicated Duda an Tejada were not considered part of the core looking forward anyway. Since both Martino and Burkhardt reported that 2014 was indeed the goal, it must be asked how reasonable that objective could have been, considering no moves were made to address the holes we still have to contend to.

        I just don’t understand how 2014 could have been more than talk, even if the Mets were indeed going to then spend the money saved on the roster payroll. Ike was nobody’s fault but no serious attempts to resolve “what outfield?” to blend in with that pitching – that is not planning at least for 2014 – it was more like punting a few more seasons and looking toward 2017 with the farm system hopefully coming through with the young hitters and giving them one or two years in the majors to get their feet wet.

        Six years to re-build in this day of free agency? It’s not a matter of spending or not spending as it is a matter of knowing when it is wise to spend and when it isn’t and how much.

  • mikeski

    Good article from Jonah Keri on Grantland here.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    The GSS video really did cheer me a bit, thanks Jace.

  • Seth

    It’s not even a matter of whether the Mets could or would compete in 2014. We’ve lost Matt Harvey Day for the foreseeable future. It was something this beleaguered fan base could look forward to every 5th day. It was fun, it made this team worth watching. No one ever knew whether Matt Harvey could help this team to the postseason, but in 2013 it sure was a hell of a lot of fun on Matt Harvey Day.

  • open the gates

    So it looks like Byrd and Buck are now, er, Bucs, in exchange for a 19-year-old 2B prospect.

    So it’s begun. The Mets brass has finally thrown in the towel for 2013.

    Can’t say I’m shocked.

    Maybe the Pirates should throw in a couple trainers and a strength-conditioning coach to be named later.

  • stan

    Harvey, Hefner, Pelfrey, Santana, Pedro, Wagner, Maine…did I miss anyone? It can’t be a bad coincidence.