- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Before He Goes Away

I don’t know what’s wrong with Matt Harvey [1]. Neither does Dan Warthen [2], or Terry Collins [3], or Sandy Alderson, or Kevin Plawecki [4], 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 [5] and Noah Syndergaard [6] 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 [7] 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 [8], 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 [9], and Tuesday night, alas, was no antimatter affair [10]: 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 [11] 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 [12] that turned into a game-tying home run, then offered Anthony Rendon [13] essentially the same ineffective pitch, with the same grim result. A fifth-inning sacrifice fly from Bryce Harper [14] made it 3-1, and then Daniel Murphy [15] 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 [16] — 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 [17] 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.