David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Game 1 of the World Series began with Matt Harvey throwing a typical, 95-mph, get-me-over fastball. Not much different than any other start in April or August. But what happened after that was hardly ordinary, and for Harvey, probably twice as frustrating than if Alcides Escobar had just deposited the pitch into one of Kauffman Stadium's waterfalls.
Instead, Harvey spun around to see the deep fly ball dive between a braking Michael Conforto, the leftfielder, and the sprinting Yoenis Cespedes, the centerfielder, who took his eye off the ball long enough for it to nail him on the right knee. So Harvey watched his first out skip along the warning track and allow the speedy Escobar to race around the bases for a leadoff, inside-the-park home run.
It didn't seem fair. The crowning moment of Harvey's career, one derailed by Tommy John surgery, was smeared through no fault of his own. The Mets never trailed in their four-game NLCS sweep of the Cubs, and Harvey wound up saddled with the task of halting the momentum of a Royals team that is nearly impossible to slow down once they get rolling.StatsBoxscoreVoteSwing or take: Mets and potential free agentsDatabaseMatt Harvey's career starts
"That's part of baseball," Harvey said after the Mets lost, 5-4, to the Royals in 14 innings. "Stuff like that happens."
Still, Harvey was able to stop the free-swinging, high-contact Royals into the sixth inning, giving the Mets a chance to get to Edinson Volquez. Harvey shook off that Cespedes blunder with four scoreless innings, even stranding Salvador Perez after he reached second base with one out in the second inning.
Once the Royals got to Harvey in the sixth, however, tying the score on Eric Hosmer's sacrifice fly and Mike Moustakas' two-out, RBI single, Terry Collins began warming Bartolo Colon -- and Harvey didn't come back out for the seventh. That was a somewhat perplexing move by the manager, considering Harvey had thrown just 80 pitches through six, but Addison Reed still replaced him.
Afterward, we found out exactly why. Harvey just wasn't right. Only 37.5 percent of his pitches were fastballs, the fewest of his career, and far below his previous low of 43.5 percent. It was a battle for him, and one Harvey eventually lost.
"I didn't feel good," Harvey said. "I didn't have my best stuff."
Harvey had been overpowering in these playoffs, and his swing-and-miss rate of 37.2 percent was the best this postseason. Not surprisingly, that didn't happen as much with the Royals, who failed to make contact only twice in their first 14 swings. Through the first five innings, they missed only five times.
Though that kept Harvey's pitch count low, and favored him getting deep into the game, he also wasn't getting strikeouts as an escape hatch. Harvey had only two Ks through five innings, and the Royals burned him by putting the ball in play during every at-bat in the sixth, when they tied the score at 3.
It started with Ben Zobrist's leadoff double down the rightfield line, and Lorenzo Cain's single put Royals at first and third. Hosmer followed with a sacrifice fly, and after a tapper back to the mound, Moustakas slapped a 2-and-0 changeup into centerfield for the tying single.
With Colon up, the end was drawing near for Harvey, who was 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in his two previous starts. Collins didn't hesitate to give him the ball in Game 1, partly because the manager felt the extra rest was necessary for Jacob deGrom, but Harvey couldn't hold the lead on this night.
"I thought when we started the game, he wasn't real sharp," Collins said. "His command was off a little bit. As we've seen, he had to work so hard to get out of the first couple innings that late in the game, his ball started coming up, and that's when I thought he was done."
The Royals' lineup, with the benefit of a DH, is longer and more dangerous than the Dodgers and Cubs before them. It was a tougher assignment, and Harvey seemed to go to his off-speed pitches more, especially the changeup, in trying to keep the Royals off-balance. A day earlier, Harvey also suggested that he's had to be more strategic with a fastball that occasionally is a few ticks slower.
"I think maybe between the long year and having surgery, I think I might have lost a little bit of -- I don't know how they said it -- the effective velocity," Harvey said earlier on the eve of Game 1. "I think I kind of went down a little bit. So I really had to learn how to pitch a little bit more and kind of go out there and be a little more crafty than normal."
Harvey survived the bizarre open to Tuesday's Game 1, but didn't stay long enough to put his stamp on this World Series. Not yet, anyway. He'll need a Game 5 now to get another chance.