Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Dark Knight Swallows Own Sword

By Jeff Kallman

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Now it seems a century ago when Matt Harvey all but ordered manager Terry Collins to let him try to finish what he started in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. The Series the Mets should have won, if not for their porous defense.

The game in which Harvey took a 2-0 shutout to the mound and discovered the hard way his heart was more full than his gas tank, surrendered a leadoff walk and an RBI double, then came out and watched helpless as the Royals exploited, yet again, a defense that could have been tried by jury for treason.

Until that leadoff walk to Lorenzo Cain, that Harvey looked exactly like the Dark Knight he once liked to crack himself up to be in hand with the New York sporting press that cracked him up likewise. That Harvey is gone. Maybe for good.

Too many health issues, maybe one too many psychological ones, have turned the man once thought to be leading a parade of youthful Met mound lancers into a beaten and broken husk of what he used to be. And opposing major league lineups are not inclined to be merciful to the fragile.

Just ask the Miami Marlins, under new ownership but still having to play a somewhat lost season to its finish. They bastinadoed Harvey for seven runs on twelve hits in four innings Monday, including Giancarlo Stanton's 55th bomb of the season, a blast so majestic it may yet be pressed into service at art colleges for geometric study.

The more blood they drew from Harvey, the deeper they attacked, until they had nothing left to suck out of the corpse. They had to settle for pecking and pricking the Mets' overtaxed bullpen to finish the 13-1 burial. And if they thought they'd been excessively hard on Harvey, it was nothing compared to how hard Harvey was on himself after the game.

"There is nothing to say," he told reporters after the game ended. "It's terrible, not fun, there is no reason for questions, there are no answers. You are going to write what you are going to write, anyway. Obviously it's deserved, so whatever you want to write, but there is nothing to say."

What was left of the Dark Knight didn't fall on his sword, he shoved it down his own throat and swallowed hard. The thud of the mighty falling is louder than the crack of the bat off which Stanton's bomb traveled to the rear end of the yard. If Harvey looks forward to an offseason in which he doesn't have to think about baseball at all until spring training begins, you really can't blame him.

The Mets can be accused of mismanaging Harvey's physical health and perhaps that of about two thirds of their team. Once they thought Harvey would lead their once-stellar array of young mound marksmen to battle and beyond. Now they have to ask whether 2015 was worth what they're left to work with now, and what they're left to work with now may include a question as to whether they also mismanaged Harvey's mental health.

Harvey the younger throve on playing the bon vivant man's man about town, a play that ran a few moralistic temperatures up scales and unnerved even those who envied his apparent aplomb. This year's model — ground further down by his health and perhaps a little reproachment from hubris itself — admitted he'd broken a curfew the night before a miscommunication as he failed to show up at the park.

And he broke curfew trying to salve himself after learning the hard way, when seeing her with her once and restored boyfriend in the press, that a girl for whom he'd fallen hard had hardly fallen back. That came not from Harvey in his public apology, but from assorted unidentified teammates, the man's man not quite possessing the bluesman's ability to make a public expression that he's brought to his knees by lost or unrequited love.

Then Harvey's health fell again, a June shoulder injury, and the former bon vivant must have wondered, from an impossible post-Tommy John surgery workload to thoracic outlet syndrome to the shoulder and back, whether he'd made any deal with any devil and whether that devil was a psychic loanshark. Harvey crashed on the rocks of the pitcher's fragility and burned himself on the pyre of hubris. And he knows it.

"[W]ith the injuries I've had some of the other outside distractions that I have caused, which I am not proud of, it makes those decisions easier for management," he said to New York Daily News writer Kristie Ackert, after the Cubs battered him for five earned runs en route a 17-5 demolition last week. "It sucks, but it's the way it is. The only thing I can do is move forward and try to put myself in the best position to help this team win and whatever decisions they make, I will just have to deal with it."

Harvey is hardly baseball's only known playboy to self immolate. Bo Belinsky, Steve Dalkowski, and Joe Pepitone among others preceded him, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes quietly, sometimes some place in between. Whether Harvey accomplishes what Belinsky, Dalkowski, and Pepitone couldn't, and finds a way to make a respectable career from here, is the open question.

The Mets can either help or hurt him in that direction, never mind that his once-formidable trade value has hit a deeper bottom than he has. Asked whether to keep Harvey on the mound despite the season destroyed and not even pride left to play for, Collins replied, "When somebody tells me why he shouldn't, we'll consider it. What do we have to lose?"

There may be only a few thousand people more than willing to tell the manager why not to consider it, and what left they and Harvey have to lose.

Maybe the best thing the Mets can do for Harvey, in hand with the best thing Harvey can do to help them, is to let him (not to mention Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and others among their walking wounded) just plain take the rest of the season off. Take the winter to re-compose. The Mets themselves could do worse than a serious round of re-thinking the ways in which they approach player health. Physical and otherwise.

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