In the biggest game of his life, the pressure is on for Matt Harvey
At a time the focus should be on the challenge at hand, which is to put the Nationals away in the National League East, it feels like anything but that.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s being dominated by one player’s problem which seems completely independent of winning, potentially sacrificing winning at that.
Matt Harvey, his agent, his surgeons and many surgeons alike have expressed concerns about his future in recent days, thanks to what really has been the Mets best effort to avoid reaching an innings limit and being stubbornly absent during the Mets most meaningful set of games in nearly a decade.
All of this talk is completely ignorant of the present day challenge, not just for Harvey, but for the team’s overriding agenda, and that is to get to the playoffs.
Call this what you will.
Is it Harvey protecting himself when nobody in the world – including the surgeon who operated on his arm – truly knows how to protect pitchers from inevitably breaking without actually pitching?
Sure, and that’s perfectly acceptable and understandable in the context of one’s own career.
Is Harvey really hurting right now, and that’s the cause for this misguided path in a cry for help?
Only he and/or his agent know the answer to that question.
Are the Mets at fault for not being stricter and harder against Harvey’s wishes to dissolve a six-man rotation, which unquestionably would have avoided this problem?
Are the Mets correct in believing the 17 month layoff for Harvey could and should allow him to throw a few extra regular season innings for a team which really needs him on that mound, and not sitting in the dugout as a spectator?
Nobody – whether it’s the agent, the player, the surgeons, or the general manager – knows for sure.
And should Harvey had just coped with the Mets best effort to protect him and limit his innings? Or in other words, adhered to the direction of his employer?
It’s certainly hard to argue the authoritative structure of the employee-employer relationship, especially for real-world people who are outraged by what has transpired in this two-year long saga.
In reality, this never should’ve been a public debate. Harvey, Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins and the rest of the players should never have been put on the spot to answer questions about team unity, players quitting, and clubhouse rifts.
It’s not fair to the integrity of the greater good of the team and the integrity of the game itself. It’s a distraction, and it will continue to be a distraction long after the season ends, well into the winter, and when Harvey puts on his spikes again in Port St. Lucie next February, or wherever he is at that point in time.
Unfortunately, the business side for professional athletes can inject a poison into any sport. This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last.
In the end, supporting and sympathetic arguments can be made for all parties involved, but there’s unlikely to be any happy compromise when the dust settles.
But whatever at this point. The damage is done, whether Harvey decides to pitch the rest of the way and every five days in the playoffs, or not.
It is fixable, however.
The emphasis for Harvey now needs to be on the present and pitching the biggest game of his life on Tuesday night against the Nationals in Washington.
Harvey takes a 3-2 record and a 0.99 ERA in eight career starts against the Nationals into this biggest start of his life on Tuesday. He is tasked with being the Matt Harvey fans adored only a short time ago, and living inside the moment like he has in so many individual moments in the past.
This is not a night for him to worry about an innings limit, when his next start will be, or his future free agent dollars he is very likely to earn in three years time.
If he’s the winning player he has proclaimed himself to be, and the winning player his own manager has touted him to be since he put the uniform on for the first time in July, 2012, it’s his opportunity tonight to excel in the moment and table this distraction, even if it’s only for three hours.
Harvey has a different kind of pressure on him on Tuesday. His assignment is to pitch his heart out and deliver a win to push the Nationals six games behind the Mets in the National League East. But he must tune out all of the noise, the chatter, and the snickering, much of which is his own doing.
It’s a crossroads of sorts for Harvey in that he can show the world how tough he really is, or he can crumble under the pressure. He’s the only one who can determine his fate.
But if he’s worried about his future – which he clearly is – tonight’s start could define that future for him, one way or another.
If Tuesday night is in fact his last start of the regular season, or the entire season for that matter, he needs to make it one for the ages, for both his team and the future of his playing career.
Time heals all wounds.
But so does winning when it counts.