May 14

Latest Loss May Be Best Thing To Happen To Mets’ Harvey

Last night may be the best thing to happen to Matt Harvey and the Mets. In defeat, he showed us a humility we haven’t often seen from him, which can be the first step up from rock bottom.

Sometime between Rockies’ hits in the fifth inning I flashed to the summer of 2013 when Harvey first flirted with stardom. Do you remember the video piece Harvey did on the Jimmy Fallon show when he roamed the streets of New York asking people their thoughts of Matt Harvey?

HARVEY: All smiles in 2013. (USA Today)

HARVEY: All smiles in 2013. (USA Today)

To listen to the answers, and Harvey’s response – both verbally and his body language – was priceless. Harvey was talking to his fan base about himself and they didn’t recognize him. He was funny and showed real humility.

It made us like him for more than what he did on the mound because he seemed
approachable.

However, since then Harvey has been sidetracked by injury, off-the-field issues and media clashes. Both Harvey and those who followed him ventured into the dark night of judgment. Unlike that day in Central Park when he was anonymous, Harvey lived with a target on his back and hasn’t responded well.

Neither has anybody else.

His body language spoke loudly last night; louder than the cheers that greeted him at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field when he seemingly held the world in his hand like the baseball he threw which such force and artistry.

Gone last night was the cockiness and arrogance which made people root against him. Also gone was the confidence that made him stare down a hitter then climb the ladder for another strikeout.

His head was down when he handed the ball to manager Terry Collins and slumped off the mound. The cameras caught him with his head bowed in the dugout talking to himself. He wasn’t getting any answers and it was a very human moment from a man Mets fans and media insist on labeling a superhero.

“A great statement I heard the other day is there’s two kinds of players in this league: Ones who have been humbled and ones who will be,” Collins told reporters. “When it’s your turn, it gets tough to take sometimes, because you have got to learn how to adjust from it and how to bounce back from it.”

However, before he can bounce back from a problem it must be identified.

Mechanics? Perhaps. Injuries or health? He says no. Is he feeling the pressure to perform after Game 5? Could be, but he’s repeatedly expressed no regrets in how he handled that night.

Most recently, is he trying to pitch up to the expectations of the contract he’ll seek when he becomes a free agent? Maybe, but it’s something I can’t see him admitting because after all, that’s something few players admit.

What then?

To his credit, and I really liked his answer, he refused to blame the altitude of Coors Field, a place he’s never pitched before.

His answer was a polite, yet forceful, “No, it’s me.”

Humility defined.

“I’m just not feeling comfortable throwing a baseball right now, so it’s frustrating,” Harvey told reporters. “Something I have obviously done my whole life is gone on a mound and thrown a baseball, and right now it’s not an easy task.

“Right now it’s just not feeling great out there — you start overthinking everything. That’s kind of the way it feels every pitch, and hopefully you get past that.”

Harvey cast no blame, although catcher Kevin Plawecki might have given him an out by saying his pitch recommendations might have been predictable. Not many pitchers win games with two runs, but he didn’t point fingers at the offense.

Instead, Harvey spoke of square one.

“It’s taking a lot longer than expected,” said Harvey, who must remember some pitchers hit the wall after Tommy John surgery in the second year back. “You can’t give up. You’ve just got to keep going. It’s start-to-start for me right now.

“I don’t look at it as ups and downs. It’s trying to continue figuring stuff out. … It’s not easy, but there’s another day tomorrow. And it’s a long season. There’s a lot of hope in that regard and drive toward figuring it out.”

I was glad to see Harvey get ripped because it might be the first step toward him getting to where he wants to be.

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May 09

Going After Utley A Bad Idea

The dumbest thing the Mets can do during their four-game series against the Dodgers – starting tonight in LA – is to go after Chase Utley with a beanball. Whether it be at his head, ribs, butt or knee, there’s no reason to start something that has already been finished.

It wouldn’t be smart even if Ruben Tejada was still on the Mets. He’s not, so what’s the purpose.

UTLEY-TEJADA: Let's move on. (AP)

UTLEY-TEJADA: Let’s move on. (AP)

MLB overreacted last October during the playoffs, which was substantiated when the suspension was dropped on appeal.

We can debate all we want on whether it was a dirty play. I’m saying it wasn’t, because: 1) Daniel Murphy did not make a good throw; 2) Tejada turned into the path of the runner, and 3) Utley was within close proximity of the bag, at least according to the rules in place. (See photo).

Also, it has always been an umpire’s discretion to eject a player if he deemed the play dirty. This did not happen and MLB behavior czar Joe Torre came down with the suspension to avoid Mets fans going ballistic when the NLDS moved to New York.

Was it aggressive? Yes. Was it dirty? Debateable. Is it worth it for the Mets to retaliate and possibly get a player injured or suspended? No.

The issue will be brought up tonight and I’m betting the over/under on the times SNY shows the play to be at least 12. That would be three times per game.

Suppose Steven Matz, or Matt Harvey, or Noah Syndergaard hit Utley and a brawl ensued. Why risk one of them being injured to prove a questionable point in protecting a player no longer on the team?

And, pitchers aren’t the only ones you could be injured. Cal Ripken nearly had his consecutive games streak snapped when the Orioles were involved in a brawl with Seattle. As it was, Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina took a few bruises.

Of course, it would be fascinating to see Yoenis Cespedes against Yassiel Puig in a WWE cage death match event. But, I digress.

The Dodgers aren’t playing good right now, so why wake them up? It could only hurt the Mets in the long run. Plus, the Mets and Dodgers could meet again in the playoffs. Why give the Dodgers ammunition to use in the future?

I felt bad Tejada didn’t get to play in the World Series. and that was his last play as a Met. However, the Mets didn’t think highly enough about him to keep him on the roster. Tejada is gone, demoted to a trivia question in Mets lore.

It’s over and time to move on.

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May 06

Today In Mets’ History: Happy Birthday Willie Mays

In 1969, the 100th Anniversary of Baseball, Joe DiMaggio was voted the game’s greatest player. That was wrong then and certainly was for the next 30 years of DiMaggio’s career. The voters slighted Mays.

You could make valid arguments for Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron. You might also lobby on behalf of Willie Mays, who on this day in 1931 was born in Westfield, Ala.

My vote goes to Babe Ruth as the greatest player in history, with Mays second. In addition to his prodigious power and five tools, Mays will always be remembered for his catch in the 1954 World Series (video) against Cleveland.

Mays’ professional career began in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. His major league in 1951, the year DiMaggio retired. They faced each other in the World Series that season.

Mays is first, and foremost, a Giant. He became a Met in 1972 when he was traded for Charlie Williams (perhaps the ultimate trivia question answer) and $50,000 in cash. The driving force behind the trade was, of course, money.

MAYS: Not the best memory. (AP)

MAYS: Not the best memory. (AP)

Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who moved the Giants to San Francisco, was operating a team hemorrhaging money. Mays was nearing retirement and the Giants could not guarantee a job when he stopped playing. The Mets could and brought the icon back to New York.

/a>Mays played a year-and-a-half with the Mets, appearing in only 133 games, but played in the 1973 World Series, in which in went 2-for-7, but is best remembered for falling down in the outfield and his plea after being called out at the plate.

Mays looked like he was playing hurt, and later said, “growing old is a helpless hurt.’’

Mays’ last at-bat was grounding into a force play in Game 3. He retired after the season with a career .302 average with 660 home runs. He appeared in a record 24 All-Star Games. He was a 12-time Gold Glover and three-time MVP.

Mays was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year of his eligibility, but amazingly didn’t appear on 23 ballots.

Apr 22

Mets List: Mets-Braves Magic Moments

Unlike the Yankees, who always had the Red Sox as a historical sparring partner, the Mets haven’t had what you’d consider a for-the-ages rival. In their infant years, they had the Dodgers and Giants for obvious reasons, then in 1969, they developed a brief rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. Later, it was the Pirates, then the Cardinals, and eventually the Braves.

I have always wanted to run a weekly Mets List feature and plan to do so on Friday.

NO STRANGER GAME

NO STRANGER GAME

With the Mets in Atlanta today for the start of a three-game series, I have come up with five of the most memorable Mets-Braves moments. If you have others, please share.

Post Sept. 11 homer: On Sept. 21, in the first professional sporting event in New York following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Braves were in town. Emotions ran high, but boiled over when Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead homer off Steve Karsay.

The Mets trailed by a run entering the eighth when Piazza delivered.

The 1969 NLCS: The Mets’ reward for overtaking the Cubs was to face the powerful Braves in the first year of divisional play.

The Braves were loaded with the likes of Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda, but the Mets swept the series, winning 9-5 and 11-6 (at Atlanta) and 7-4 (at Shea Stadium).

Tom Seaver, Ron Taylor and Nolan Ryan were the winning pitchers. From there, the Mets continued to stun the sports universe by beating Baltimore in the World Series.

The Grand Slam single: The Mets trailed in the 1999 NLCS 3-to-1 in games and 3-2 entering the bottom of the 15th inning. The Mets tied it, 3-3, when Todd Pratt drew a bases-loaded walk.

Robin Ventura followed with what appeared to be a grand slam, but was only credited with a single when the Mets stormed the field to congratulate Ventura. In the process, Mets’ runners passed each other on the bases necessitating the call. VIDEO

The Mets would lose Game 6, 10-9, when Kenny Rogers issued a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth.

The Subway Series against the Yankees would have to wait another year.

Late night fireworks: On July 4 and 5, 1985, the Mets had one of those games. The Mets tied it, 8-8, in the top of the ninth on Lenny Dykstra’s RBI single off closer Bruce Sutter.

The teams slogged around for several innings before Howard Johnson’s two-run homer off Terry Forster in the 13th inning. However, Atlanta tied it, 10-10, on Terry Harper’s two-run homer off Tom Gorman. The Mets regained the lead in the 18th on Dykstra’s sacrifice fly off reliever Rick Camp, but the Braves tied it again on Camp’s homer off Gorman.

The Mets seemingly blew open the game with five runs off Camp in the 19th, but pesky Atlanta pulled within 16-13 off Ron Darling.

The game ended shortly before 4 a.m., but the Braves went ahead with their fireworks night. That prompted many calls to police claiming their neighborhood was under attack.

Double-header treat: In a night that might have symbolized the passing of the torch was near, Mets started prize pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler combined for a double-header sweep on June 18 in Atlanta.

Harvey, who would pitch in the All-Star Game that year but eventually wind up on the disabled list and need surgery, won the first game, 4-3. Wheeler, who grew up near Atlanta, won the second game. 6-1.

Rarely had the Mets won in Atlanta, but sweeping a double-header was unfathomable.

ON DECK: Matt Harvey Tinkers With Mechanics

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Apr 21

Put Up Time For Matt Harvey

It’s time Matt Harvey put on his “Big Boy Pants’’ and begins pitching up to all the expectations, from the Mets, the public whose attention he craves, the media whom he disdains, and of course, himself.

After a dismal start to a season many projected would be a breakout year – I even said he’d win 20 – Harvey needs to come up with a performance to change the talk from whispered questions to shouts of adulation.

HARVEY: Walking off the mound dejected. (AP)

HARVEY: Walking off the mound dejected. (AP)

It’s not a stretch to say outside his first start last season following Tommy John surgery Friday’s game in Atlanta will be the most important regular-season start in his still young career.

Harvey shot into our Mets’ consciousness in 2013 with his All-Star caliber pitching and remained there with his elbow injury, how he handled himself in his rehabilitation program and his penchant for the trappings of being the Dark Knight and a New York sports hero.

Then there was the World Series and Game 5 when he pitched like the star we all hoped he’d be, but who morphed into selfishness when he let his ego run wild in the ninth inning that ended the Mets’ season.

Harvey, by his own admission, entered spring training with a chip on his shoulder grew inflamed after a bladder infection and his immature reaction following the expected response from the tabloids. What, he didn’t expect sarcastic headlines? The tabloids aren’t The Player’s Tribune, which grants the free pass of no accountability he knew as a prep star and foolishly demands in the major leagues.

Somebody who professes to be a New York star should understand that; just as should have known of the anticipated concern over his 0-3 with a 5.71 ERA start. It’s one thing to go through a rough stretch, but Harvey’s command and fastball aren’t what they used to be. His valued slider doesn’t have its usual bite.

That’s more than mildly worrisome.

Is Harvey injured? He hasn’t always been forthcoming about health issues, so that can’t be ruled out. He says he’s fine, but his believability index is low.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said after his loss in Cleveland last Saturday Harvey’s confidence was shaky and mechanics were off. Confidence comes from pitching well and winning, but Harvey isn’t doing either. After that game Harvey admitted “nobody is more frustrated than I am.”

Correcting mechanics takes time and rarely are fixed after one session, although manager Terry Collins said this week he had a good one.

“He was very confident,’’ Collins told reporters. “He thought it was the best bullpen he’s had in a long time. So that was really good news.’’

Of course, if Harvey was having poor bullpens why wasn’t this brought out earlier? But, therein lies the complex dilemma that has marked his career. He’s not forthcoming and the Mets go out of their way to protect him.

Just as there are expectations, there is always something with Harvey, always some issue that takes our eyes off the mound. Only this time our eyes remain fixated on the mound and Harvey. And, it will remain that way until he starts pitching.

It’s put up time

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