Saturday, September 5, 2015

From Bruce Wayne to the Joker

    Vince McMahon is blushing at the heel-turn from Matt Harvey today. If baseball was the WWE, maybe it wouldn't be as shocking or as tough of a gut-punch to see someone so beloved turn heel on a dime in the middle of a pennant race. And even after he threw a temper-tantrum once the Mets announced they were going to a six man rotation in order to preserve his innings, and he pouted once his start was skipped in Colorado... he drops a bomb on his team in the middle of a pennant race just before their biggest series in seven years.

   Matt Harvey was a shining beacon in the darkness of the existence of the New York Mets when he emerged onto the scene in 2013. Starting the All-Star game at Citi Field and plunking a Yankee turned him into a Mets cult hero as he was being recognized as one of the game's bright up-and-coming pitchers of record. Then, as soon as the light was shining so bright as to illuminate the whole of the Gotham skyline, it was put out when he needed Tommy John surgery. That was a gut punch unlike any Mets fans had seen since the infamous collapses.

   Now back this season, combined with the rest of the Mets bevy of young arms, it looked as if it was time for Harvey to resume his charge to being a New York darling. He may not have been the Mets beacon of hope as he was two years prior, but he still was an anchor on a rotation that was primed to become one of the best in baseball. He was fuming that the Mets considered a six man rotation to begin with, and were even thinking of skipping his starts, because he wanted to fight through the stigma of innings limits. He perceived Tommy John Surgery as a minor inconvenience and was going to treat it as such. But now? He's rolled over and played dead.

   Stephen Strasburg had a well-publicized innings limit for the Nationals in 2012 after he recovered from Tommy John Surgery. His agent, like Matt Harvey, is Scott Boras. Unlike Harvey's 180 innings limit, which seemed to come out of nowhere, Strasburg's was public well before the season started. Davey Johnson was well aware of it, and so was Mike Rizzo. Strasburg was shut down for the season on September 8 of that year, and to this day hasn't been the same pitcher.

  Harvey wasn't nearly as dynamite as in 2013, and figured to probably not be the Mets Game One starter in the NLDS should they have advanced that far, but even as a third starter, he'd be better than almost any in the postseason. He made his name as a fighter; a feisty character that would embrace the challenge of being a big star in New York and helping a deprived franchise return to glory. He displayed that feistiness all season long when it became clear the Mets were trying to preserve his arm. But all of that has been washed away in two days, at the worst possible time. This public capitulation comes just weeks after he sparred about having his start skipped in Colorado, but he ultimately relented since he wanted to pitch in September, or so it seemed.

   Innings limits are inherently arbitrary. Naturally, Harvey wants to preserve as much of his future earnings as possible, which makes eve more sense seeing who his agent is. Innings can come in many different shapes and forms, so limiting to any number seems futile on the surface. But if there was/is an innings limit imposed by Dr. James Andrews, then why not mention at the start of the season and at least fight the battle in March, not September? Sandy Alderson said there was no innings limit in February and that Harvey could pitch up to 200 innings including the postseason. So where did this come from? If Harvey had been injured with the Mets over-exerting him, than the front office would be lambasted. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson would be the covers of every backpage of every tabloid. Instead, Harvey decided to take tomatoes and vitriol himself.

   Boras and Harvey have legitimate concerns about that elbow in question, as they should. They have every right to want to preserve future earning ability. But these are battles and debates that shouldn't take place in September. And if Harvey is truly hurting, he needs to come out and say it bluntly, not just for himself but for Boras and the Mets too. If he won't say it and he isn't 100%, then someone from the front office needs to say it. But if he was hurting, then why would the front office be so vehement in fighting back publicly against Boras' proclamation? Somehow, the Mets became the innocent deer in the headlights out of a position where it looked like they couldn't win no matter where they turned.

   The Mets can fight through this in all likelihood; not just in the pennant race but into the postseason if they get there because of their rotation depth. But make no mistake: this is a sucker punch that so few expected, and certainly blindsided everyone. Somehow, the AAA offense, the trade that wasn't that caused a lifetime Met to cry on the field and the ongoing payroll concerns have been topped. Teams cannot bank on future successes and assume they are coming. Every chance has to be taken like it's their last. The Mets want to win now because they may not get this chance again. Matt Harvey may not have this chance again, but he certainly thinks he'll have more. What does his manager think of these quotes, what do his teammates think of these quotes, let alone the media and fans?

   The pitcher who pitches through bleeding episodes and made his name trying to be larger than life has sunken into the same shadows he once cast over the city he easily could have ruled.

   And since every single baseball follower is quoting this famous phrase today, why shouldn't I?

  "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

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