Each pitch Matt Harvey hurls, extending his right elbow, stretching the tendon that a scalpel incision allowed to be replaced, he is making one pitch closer to his last as a New York Met. The end will come—whether by retirement, injury, trade, or free agency. Each inning is one inning closer to that final inning. In his first year returning from Tommy John surgery, Harvey remains human, each pitch sewn with mortality; it’s just for him, the date of death’s hammer—one that will fall for Matz and Wheeler and deGrom and Syndergaard, hell, even Colon—feels fast approaching.
We will never know the real story, only the one unfolding in front of our eyes, the same eyes that once saw Doc Gooden throw 218 innings as a 19-year-old. Matt Harvey and Scott Boras and the Mets suddenly can’t agree on the number of innings the stubborn right-hander should take the mound for this season. Boras sent a warning call, seemingly out of left field, or from the back bench of the bullpen, far, far away from the general manager’s office were the decision had already been made to let Harvey pitch beyond his 180 inning cap that either Dr. Andrews, Scott Boras, or both, decided was a hard stop.
Sandy Alderson called Scott Boras paternalistic in caring for Harvey. The past five months, then, a strange courting, the Mets knowing that Harvey must be treated with care, but taken in by his stardom, craving the attention he generates, they teased and teased, nerds dancing with the prom queen, never believing it would get to this point, possessing an actual shot at doing something with him, ending up with their pants down and no protection, Boras crying rape.
America has a way to turn sports heroes ironic. The family-made golfer gone porn. The friendly football player instead abusive. Maybe if Matt Harvey hadn’t made his image, blood climbing down from his nose before he would dare set foot off the mound, this whole situation wouldn’t seem so deceitful. But everything that has defined the stern-faced pitcher from Connecticut, the way he goes about his business, all business, the perception that little Terry Collins better bring a gun, a big one, if he dared take the ball from him without being PJ Carlesimo’d, was a lie, a falsehood. The bat signal shining bright through the thick clouds that have hung over Citi Field since the ribbon-cutting ceremony wouldn’t fail to illuminate at the time of greatest need, as many had worried, it would go unanswered by the Dark Knight himself.
The Dark Knight of Gotham was supposed to be the hero that Mets fans deserved. After two decades of watching Derek Jeter from afar—his toughness, resolve, determination, and unrelenting desire to win—fans in Queens were ready to embrace their own field general. New York drawing on its reputation for shining brightest in the biggest moment, where superstars are born—in the playoffs. The lasting image of Harvey designed to be iconic, not wavering.
How did the Mets get to this point—doctor’s orders to tame their number one starter in one hand, playoff ticket in the other?
Perhaps Sandy Alderson is more cunning than previous general managers have proven to be in shutting down a star pitcher; by passing the burden onto the agent, the Mets can escape public ridicule for a plan that all sides probably agree is most prudent. The Mets—their owners, the Wilpons, always under attack, never thinking of the fan’s indulgence for winning; their general manager, always cautious, playing for par, pulling a sinkable putt short of the hole to avoid missing long—can appear victims for once. Scott Boras and his fraction of a billion dollar contracts and never a dime short and obsessively focused on free agency can play the easy villain.
And what does Harvey’s future hold in New York, specifically, Queens, since the borough distinction may prove important? The question, with an answer Mets’ fans presume to be unkind to them, bleeds with moral hazard. If the burden of Harvey’s health is likely to be carried by another team, why not take a risk? Playoff baseball is a payment the Wilpons have let run past due; in a line of creditors, the fans standing last, as a roster was liquified and debts were evened to investors unknown. The fans have waited long enough, their day in court granted in September, justice finally delivered in October. Matt Harvey has to pitch!
One also has to wonder if the Mets made a gamble they assumed would never pay out. In an office somewhere in Port St Lucie, when the Florida sun ridiculed the New York snow, Sandy Alderson probably leaned back in his chair, a deputy sitting across him holding an uneven stack of papers, each printed with the same message—an innings cap made procedural sense for Harvey—and with a chuckle, or likely a concealed smile since Sandy is not one to let laughter bully his cool demeanor, he joked about shutting down his star pitcher in the middle of the playoffs, and then, quickly, adding the punch line: let’s hope that is something we have to worry about. Well, the Mets have to worry about it now.
And now that the Mets have to worry about it, a game of chicken has ensued. Sandy, sitting this time across from the Wilpons, asked how he would deal with the negative attention of sacrificing the playoffs for health, likely shook his head, brusque, and replied, we will make Harvey and Boras shut him down. Harvey wanted to give the middle finger to his surgery and wave it across Twitter to the chagrin of ownership—well, fuck you, Harvey, let’s see who the tough guy is now?!
In baseball, starts are scheduled, taken in turn, rotated in order. A successful season found when assignments are tentative; inning limits or not, the success of the 2015 Mets guarantees they will not know which start will be Harvey’s last this year. It could be the last day of the regular season—hope not—trying to preserve a division lead; it could be Game 1 of the NLDS or Game 5 of the NLCS or Game 7 of the World Series. It could be his last start is one start before what should have been his last start, and of course, this is what causes so much headache.
Fans are always in search of a villain—the bullpen hand not carrying his weight, the everyday player who spaces hits by the week, the manager responsible for calling a bunt when he should have let the hitter swing away. Science is too disagreeable to cast as the villain; we can’t agree on the validity of human-generated emissions on climate change in this country, how are we supposed to agree that pitch counts impact a pitcher’s health? So the villain becomes the easiest target: Harvey.
But is it fair to cast Harvey as the hated one? We can all agree that inning limits suck, Tommy John surgery and the risk of surgery an omnipresent reality, every time the MLB app pushes a notification to our phones, dread of an injury announcement greets it. We can hate the situation, but does Harvey deserve to be branded with a scarlet letter for listening to his doctors and considering his livelihood in protecting his arm? Should a public mob—taking to wifi and LTE networks on Twitter and message boards, soon filling seats behind the dugout and bullpen at Citi—force Harvey to make a brash decision? Why don’t the Mets protect their player?
The right thing for the Mets to have done in this situation was to keep both Harvey and Boras apprised of their workload plans, realize, eventually, however late in the process, that considerations have changed, and if they couldn’t cajole, dare, twist his arm, into pitching beyond the 180 innings cap, take the classy approach, and make an organizational decision to shut him down.
By Sunday night, the division race, having been distracted by its key participants, finally took over. It was hard to notice the Player’s Tribune piece posted by Harvey trying to squash the whole circus. The Mets had lost two of three to the Marlins while the Nationals beat up on the hapless Braves. The lead is now four games, teetering on a toss-up, three games in Washington deciding how close the final few weeks of the season will be; how anxious Mets fans will be forced to feel. Matt Harvey will pitch in the playoffs, if they get there: the buried lede reveals itself.
I feel like we’ve rented a beach cottage; the playground posing as the beach, still covered with sand, crashing waves replaced by plastic slides, both tumbling, one with surfers, boogie boarders, and swimmers, the other, my current world, unrolling gleeful toddlers. Our house is a cottage positioned close enough to make the daily drive, our beach bag a diaper bag filled with pampers, sippy cups, and spit-up towels. Every day we wake up, we have breakfast, read the morning papers, and pack up for the beach—ahem—playground. Giving Livy an outlet each day, away from the attention and affection heisted by Zoey, is important. She finds a place that is always shared—by fellow stay-at-home offspring—to be her own.
On one of our routine trips to the playground, we found a group of teenagers loitering, racing down the slides, climbing the monkey bars, making noise. It was expected that we would find someone else playing, we always did, usually a mom and two kids, maybe one more, infrequently another dad and kid, each parent-kid combo finding isolation. You chased your own kid, noticed someone else’s hanging a little high off the climbing wall, thinking for a second of helping before remembering to stay focused on your own kid, and when that brief moment came, when Livy found the top of the slide at the same time as someone else, you politely smiled at the other parent before advising Liv to take her turn. That was it. Parents weren’t looking to talk at the playground, they were looking for an escape themselves. Somehow chasing their little ones outside under the sun feeling more liberating than doing it at home beneath the weight of household chores that still needed to be done.
I found the loitering kids to be interesting. First, by the way I even describe them—loitering kids, not some dudes hanging out, or group of guys—kids, as they were, clearly at a stage in life different than my own, made apparent by my saliva-dipped finger rubbing the leftover peanut butter jelly and sandwich—at least the jelly part—off Livy’s face. On town property clearly labeled playground, with a sign that stated an age limitation—between 5 and 12—the loitering kids and I searched for our age identities. They, in their lazy t-shirts, made to look lazy, on the cusp of adulthood, liberated from responsibility, savoring their youth on the playscape pieces that still managed their weight. Me, in my Mets t-shirt, one I lazily put on, too bothersome to iron anything else, having passed fully into adulthood with my second child, feeling a need to separate from my youth, ignoring the loitering kids. Only Livy, two years old, stayed in herself. She could notice the loitering kids, she could laugh with her dad, completely unaffected by her place along the age scale. Until another two year old came within view, that is; then she froze.
Harmony between Livy and Zoey has been difficult to notice while keeping up—and being a parent is an obsession with keeping up: the dishes, littered with food prepared by family and friends, needing refreshing for the next round of family and friends; the toy room, always in a state of transition between clean, mostly clean, messy, and neglected; the living room, couches matched with bedroom pillows, bookshelves hastily stacked, piles of magazines and mail and coasters left undisturbed, a cup left half empty on the edge of the table, unsure why it hasn’t been collected, used to living in my OCD world. Escaping the clutter, on a Friday night driving to my dad’s house, a moment came that was impossible to overlook.
Livy and Zoey were sitting next to each other in the backseat, as siblings do, not needing any invisible lines to mark their territories as their car seats more than do the trick. Zoey began to fuss; she must have been hungry because to that point on the road, on Autumn Street, the same street that used to lead me to school, she had traveled roughly 45 miles in this world, approximating the distance home from the hospital and the few errands we had made since, and motion had always been swaddling to her. I half-seriously told Livy to stick her finger in Zoey’s mouth to soothe her, and without asking why—we are so deep into the whys, I now ask why when she doesn’t ask why—she just did it. Zoey instantly quieted down, at peace. I looked back in the rear-view mirror and there they were, two heaps of flesh thrown together by me and Emily, becoming human together.
That does it for this week!