Apparently, Matt Harvey is a lot more resilient than credited. We already know that no amount of controversy can faze him, which sometimes works to his disadvantage, whether he’s pondering his innings counts aloud or whether his agent is doing the pondering on his behalf as if giving his team orders. Why, not even a line drive off his forearm can send Harvey away.
For a moment it looked like everyone in a Met uniform would swarm to be sure he’d survive after Dexter Fowler lined one off his right forearm in the top of the sixth. And Harvey simply waved them off. After he picked up the ball and threw Fowler out, that is.
“The ball kind of dented my arm a little bit, got me right in the tricep,” he said after the Mets banked the 4-2 National League Championship Series-opening win over the Chicago Cubs. “But I felt fine going out there again, and really felt fine through the rest of the game. It’s a little bit swollen right now, but the training staff will take care of that and we’ll be all set.”
Matt Harvey feeling fine is dangerous news. For the Cubs, that is. They may yet have to face him again before this set is over. Oh, thrill, oh, joy.
“I talk to this guy every day,” said Mets manager Terry Collins of his Game One marksman. “I know exactly what he’s about, and he wants the baseball. He wants it. He wants to be out there tonight. If it comes down to a Game Seven, he’ll want it, believe me. That’s not just a mask that he’s putting on.”
On Saturday night Harvey actually took a perfect game to the top of the fifth. Isn’t it also enough that they’re going to have to tangle with Noah Syndergaard in Game Two and Jacob deGrom in Game Three? Even with Jake Arrieta on the mound to face Syndergaard?
The shakiest inning of Harvey’s night was the fifth, when he opened by hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch and surrendering an RBI double to Starlin Castro that sailed just over center fielder Juan Lagares’s head.
One out later Javier Baez singled to left sending Castro to third, but when Castro decided to try for the plate Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes threw him out on a strike that bounded twice before finding catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s mitt. “That guy,” Castro said after the game, “has a cannon. I couldn’t do anything with that.”
Once Cespedes had saved the night, escaping that one now seems almost a matter of course. For Harvey and the Mets. But it was still ultimately in Harvey’s hands.
They’d gotten on the board early enough against Cubs starter Jon Lester—you remember him: the major free agency signing the Cubs landed last winter, the signing that suddenly shot a lot of World Series predictions the Cubs’ way—when Daniel Murphy, inexplicably the hottest bat in the Met arsenal, hit one into the second deck in the bottom of the first.
In case you were wondering, when you add that blast to the ones he struck off Clayton Kershaw (two) and Zack Greinke (one) in the division series, Murphy has now damaged about $517 million worth of pitchers. He’s also hit one out in his third straight postseason game, tying the Mets’ record set by Donn Clendenon of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
“He’s locked in, and when he gets locked in, he can do some damage offensively, and you’re seeing that right now,” said David Wright, the Mets’ captain whose postseason has been one of modest futility, though in fairness he is still shaking off that spinal trouble that kept him out most of the season. “It doesn’t matter what they throw at him. Left-hander, right-hander, fastballs, off-speed pitches. It’s fun to watch.”
d’Arnaud contributed to the bombardment when he hit one over the center field fence with one out in the bottom of the sixth, smack in the middle of three Met runs in three innings. Lagares scored the other two, the first on Curtis Granderson’s two-out single an inning before Lagares’s launch. The second, in the bottom of the seventh, left a lot of Cub watchers befuddled.
Lagares opened the inning with a base hit, took second on Harvey’s deftly executed sacrifice bunt, and stole third with Granderson at the plate. Then Granderson lofted a fly to shallow enough left for Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ blast furnace of a rookie, to catch without flinching. But Schwarber’s throw home met catcher Miguel Montero far enough up the line that Lagares took the Mets’ fourth run across the plate easily, since Montero couldn’t return to tag him.
“Coming from a catcher,” Schwarber said, “there’s not much he can do there. That’s a tough play all around.” About the most Schwarber could do to try making up for it was driving Harvey out of the game with two out in the eighth, by hitting one so far out of sight that Harvey himself could only say, “That ball hasn’t landed yet.”
In came Jeurys Familia, now being asked for a four-out save just two days after his six-out job sent the Los Angeles Dodgers home for the winter. He surrendered his first postseason hit, a two-out single by Montero in the ninth, but he got a spectacular assist from Murphy at second—diving for Tommy La Stella’s grounder to throw him out—to end it. And the other guys are still a mere 1-for-21 off him for the postseason thus far.
But Harvey remained the story no matter who did what. And d’Arnaud said after the game that their pre-game warmups told him Harvey was going to be a lot different than he’d been in the division series. ”I could tell by the first pitch I caught. A paint—down-and-away fastball. The next one was a paint, down-and-in fastball. I knew it was going to be a fun night for the both of us.”
A paint, in case you didn’t know, is now baseball lingo for pitches hitting the edges of the plate. On Saturday night, forget being a painter. Harvey was Salvador Dali. For the guy a lot of people thought might not even be here this month, that was saying more than enough.