Heading into October of 2015, Mets ace and ‘Dark Knight’ in residence, Matt Harvey, was faced with the ultimate ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario.
Coming off season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2013, Harvey’s innings limit of 180 innings was approaching as quickly as one of his patented 98 m.p.h fastballs. But, so were the MLB playoffs.
A cacophony of calls from fans and media members urged and pleaded for Harvey to pitch and to abdicate the innings limit.
The calls from his agent, Scott Boras, preached an entirely different message – one of self-preservation, with concerns about the ace’s future and of course, his future earnings.
So… to pitch, or not to pitch?
That became the question for Harvey as it became more and more evident that his Mets team was capable of a deep October run, but only if he were at the helm of their vaunted starting rotation.
Of course, Harvey pitched, and he did it brilliantly throughout the entire postseason; blowing away batters and his original innings limit in the process, surpassing his innings limit by 36 innings.
He finished the postseason 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts.
And just like that, Harvey was revered again by the Mets faithful and all was right in the world.
No more ‘Harvey Two-Face’ headlines and no more calls questioning his fortitude and his heart.
But that was last season. This season, it’s a whole new ballgame.
2016 has been an epic struggle for Harvey, to say the very least. His fastball velocity is down around 91-93 as opposed to the usual 97-98 m.p.h and his ERA is up to 5.77 over his first nine starts (3-6) of the year.
Sure, it’s been ugly, but things got even uglier at the end of a brutal showing on Thursday night against the Washington Nationals at home in front of the Mets faithful.
After allowing seven runs in the third inning, Harvey was booed mercilessly by his home fans as he walked off the mound.
Didn’t it feel like yesterday that Harvey was given a raucous standing ovation after throwing an eight-inning gem that went for naught against the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series?
My how the ‘Dark Knight’ has fallen.
But let’s rewind for a second. Let’s ask ourselves, what could possibly be the cause of a bona fide ace so abruptly losing his way?
Let’s ask Bryce Harper, one of the best hitters on the planet, who was 0-for-21 against Harvey before getting his first hit of his career off him last night.
So maybe, just maybe, Scott Boras was right.
Maybe, his arm is exhausted. Maybe, throwing 226 innings fresh off of Tommy John surgery wasn’t such a bright idea after all.
Maybe he did ‘put himself in peril’ by pitching deep into the postseason for you, the fans. For his championship-starved team. For his city.
But don’t let that get in the way of a good ole’ public shaming, Mets fans. Don’t let that stop you from further disgracing your fallen hero who you’ve already done a great job of ostracizing this year.
This latest incident, atop a complete body of evidence of overblown past transgressions proves it – Matt Harvey simply deserves better from Mets fans. Fans who at the end of the day will have themselves (or maybe the Wilpons, but that’s another story for another day) to blame when Harvey gleefully skips town once his contract is up in 2018.
But here’s the saddest part of it all.
If Harvey opts not to pitch last fall and keeps to his innings limit and comes out firing this season, he’s cheered every time he takes to the rubber.
Sure, he’s branded a coward and has to deal with an offseason full of drama and scorn from Mets fans and writers, but he certainly doesn’t get booed.
Or does he?
Does he emerge from the dugout on opening day 2016 to a chorus of jeers because of the way he left his team high and dry in the postseason? A postseason, mind you, in which the Mets probably don’t make it to the World Series without Harvey in the rotation.
Maybe. But at the very worst it goes away after the first 100 or so strikeouts. Certainly once the Harvey for NL Cy Young talk begins to heat up.
But that’s not the case and as a result, as it stands now, Harvey’s is a cautionary tale. It’s a tale of the danger of not protecting your brand, and doing right by your fan base for the glory and the gratitude, both of which are fickle and fleeting, especially in New York.
So what’s the point, if you’re Matt Harvey, and you’re left twisting in the wind by your home faithful anyway?
What’s the point of going the extra mile for the fans, when at the end of the day, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t?
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.