By Paul DiSclafani:
With only three regulars in the lineup on a Memorial Day afternoon game, it was going to be all on Matt Harvey’s fragile shoulders to not only right his own ship, but to show his teammates something they haven’t seen in a long time, The Dark Knight. And show them he did. Backed by a solo home run from Neil Walker that turned out to be the only run of the game, Harvey and the bullpen shut out the White Sox (27-25), giving the the Mets (29-21) a 1-0 win.
With Ty Kelly manning third for the injured David Wright, Wilmer Flores wearing an oversized glove and returning from the DL to play first, Michael Conforto sitting for the second straight game against a lefty and catcher Rene Rivera behind the dish, it didn’t seem like manager Terry Collins was backing up Harvey with his best team when he really needed it the most. Without a strong start from Harvey, this game seemed set up as a throw away.
So which Harvey would show up? The one whose first 10 games raised more questions than answers, or the one who the Mets began their resurgence with in 2012? Today’s Harvey (W, 4-7) threw seven strong shutout innings (his longest outing of the season), giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out six and snapping a personal three game losing streak.
With all the talk about Harvey’s problems and all the experts weighing in on what the Mets should do with their former Ace who seemed to have lost his way, Harvey had exactly the outing that everyone was hoping for: dominant, efficient and successful. When asked about what the most encouraging thing he saw from Harvey today, Collins responded without even mentioning the results: “The emotion, the intensity. When he got out of the seventh inning, he was generally fired up, and that’s great to see.”
Harvey and the team have insisted that his recent struggles are not physical and his demeanor on the mound has been disconcerting. There was no swagger, there was no confidence. He seemed lost. Today, he seemed a little more like himself.
Collins didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but was pleased with Harvey’s outing. “Today was a first real big step where he feels good about the way it went and the way he threw the ball. Now we just gotta build on it and stay as positive as we can and get him back out there and see if he can repeat it. And if he does that, no matter what the end results are, if he repeats this kind of performance with stuff, I think we’re on the right step.”
Harvey, who skipped out on the media after his last start, was obviously pleased with his outing, but like Collins, didn’t want to get ahead of himself and declare his problem in the past.
“I think this is the first step. This doesn’t really mean anything unless I continue this and stay with what we’ve been working on. It’s a work in progress and I was able to go out there and feel comfortable with my mechanics and get the job done.”
But what about the results? Harvey was spot on and seemed confident in his stuff for the first time this season. Rivera, the back-up catcher, was behind the plate with Harvey on the mound for the first time since joining the Mets. He was impressed, but cautioned about his teammate’s ups and downs. “He was attacking the strike zone. There are 162 games, players go through ups and downs and he finds himself in a down spot and now he is coming back.”
While all eyes were on Harvey, White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana was matching zeroes and holding the Mets to just five hits until the seventh inning, when Neil Walker took a 1-0 pitch 397 feet over the left field fence for his 12th home run of the year and a 1-0 lead. It was Walker’s fourth home run right-handed already this year, compared to three all of last year.
After working a perfect sixth inning, Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen decided to send Harvey out there one more time instead of pulling him and ending his outing on a good, confidence building note. After all, what if Harvey fell apart in the seventh? Would that ruin all of the good will he built up in the six innings?
With his pitch count under control and him rolling along, Collins decided to roll the dice in the seventh and maybe give Harvey a little adversity. “Maybe it is going so easy today, he needs to get through a tougher inning and get us deeper into the game. And if he comes out of that inning, I think that is even more of a confidence builder. We wanted to see if we could get him through seven and we did.”
So of course, Harvey walked Adam Eaton leading off the inning and served up a single to Jose Abreu followed by a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position. Were bad thoughts creeping into Harvey’s mind? “You kind of think about the worst at that point,” said Harvey. “You start getting some negative thoughts.”
But Harvey worked out of the jam, getting Todd Frazier to foul out to third and JB Shuck to ground out to short, passing the test. “It’s nice to put so much work in between starts and go out there and actually be able to maintain what we had been working on and have good results,” Harvey said.
In the ninth with the Mets protecting a 1-0 lead and Harvey’s first win in a month, Collins didn’t think twice about going back to closer Jeurys Familia, who gave up six earned runs in his last two outings after allowing only five runs all season.
“I thought we had to go to him and there was no hesitation on my part. This has got to be his time. We’re gonna need him if we are going to continue to achieve what we want to achieve, he’s going to be a big part of it. If you are going to have confidence in anything you do, you better have people around you that believe in you also.”
Like Harvey, Familia responded with a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 17th save, striking out two. “They entered today with a little character building on their plate,” Collins said. “You got your two guys back in the mix and you get the confidence built back in both of them. We couldn’t have set a better stage – tight game, close game, pitch for pitch, every one of them has to be a good one. With those guys pitching the way they were today, I thought it was really, really good.”
Former Met Robin Ventura, now the manager of the White Sox, knew Harvey was struggling, but knows that didn’t matter. “For all the notoriety of him struggling, he wasn’t struggling today.”
“The idea is to do everything I can to help the team and I felt like I wasn’t doing that very well,” Harvey said after the game. “In a one-run ball game, to be able to put up zeroes was very exciting for me.”
It was just as exciting for Mets fans.
Steven Matz (7-1) will be gunning for his eight consecutive win against Mat Latos (6-1) tomorrow night.
POSITIVES: Harvey is 2-0 life time against the White Sox, surrendering just three hits in 16 innings with 18 strikeouts. Harvey allowed just one base runner over nine innings in a game the Mets won in 10 innings in 2013 … Ty Kelly got his first major league hit … James Loney will join the team on the active roster on Tuesday … Harvey lowered his ERA to 5.37 … Addison Reed earned his 10th “Hold” and has given up just two base runners in his last eight appearances (7.2 innings).
NEGATIVES: David Wright, who missed his third straight game with a herniated disk in his neck, was examined today. The Mets have not yet made the decision to put him on the DL, although Collins did not sound optimistic. “We just don’t know. He may have to miss some time.”