David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Terry Collins described it as a "special case," like those occasions when your parents let you stay up an hour past bedtime to watch the Mets or Yankees go extra innings on a school night. Just this once, they said. Knowing, of course, they'd give in again when you begged a few weeks later.
Collins was talking about his decision to green-light Matt Harvey for the ninth inning of Saturday's 8-2 win over the Yankees, a victory that he made comfortable from start to (almost) finish.
Harvey knows the drill. He was ready to come out after seven innings, as a concession to the team's plan of budgeting the ace's workload in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
Cripes, Collins himself knew it was the perfect opportunity to lift Harvey after only 81 pitches. Let the bullpen get six outs and bank those two innings with Harvey on a soft limit of 180 to 190 for this year.
But Collins saw how cushy it had been for Harvey during most of the afternoon, the pitching-to-contact outs, the low-leverage situations.
So he stuck with Harvey. Then things got sticky.
"I think I was happy going seven," Harvey said. "And then when I got through the eighth pretty easily, I think at that point, my mind-set switched and I wanted to go all nine."
That's the danger here. In theory, Collins and Harvey can talk all day about being on the same page with their conservation efforts, the innings limits and pitch counts meant to protect the high-motor Harvey from himself. But when it comes time to make the hard choices, smack-dab in the middle of the Subway Series, standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, the adrenaline takes over.
Harvey is a competitive guy. We all know that by now. With only one complete game on his relatively brief resume, he got so close to this one he could taste it -- and against the Yankees, in the Bronx, no less.
So Harvey dispatched the Yankees with only 10 pitches in the eighth inning -- whiffing Chris Young and Chase Headley -- and then had a simple message for his manager.
"I want this one," Harvey told Collins in the dugout.
And this time Collins relented. A manager's job, first and foremost, is to win games. But it doesn't hurt to throw a player a bone every once in a while, and that's what Collins was thinking. In addition, the Mets already planned to give Harvey an extra day this week by calling up Rafael Montero for an April 28 spot start in Miami.
"He deserved it in every way," Collins said. "This was his day and he needed to be out there. So I did the best I could to leave him out there."
But even Collins reached his limit. Despite two quick outs, Mark Teixeira singled through the shift. And when a four-pitch walk to Brian McCann pushed Harvey's pitch count to 107, the manager, who watched the ninth inning anxiously from the top step of the dugout, finally went to the mound.
Harvey protested briefly -- he could be seen mouthing the words, "Come on!" -- but it was over.
"Matt, I can't," Collins told him. "As much as I want to, I can't. This is what we've got to do."
Collins was right, of course. The leash on Harvey wound up a little longer than the Mets would have liked, and that can't continue in these types of scenarios. Harvey is averaging 6 2/3 innings through his first four starts, and if you extend that to 30 starts, that's a projected total of 197 innings for the regular season alone -- or seven more than the upper ceiling of his limit.
The Mets (14-4) also should be in the playoff hunt, which will make it even tougher to be conservative with Harvey. That's going to put Collins in the unenviable position he was in Saturday, a situation that is bound to keep coming up.
A dominant and healthy Harvey is a great problem to have, but handling him is going to take some discipline, too. Such as pulling him with five- or six-run leads in the future.
"That's going to happen, for sure," Collins said.
Harvey got his hall pass Saturday. And that's fine. But Collins will have to resort more to tough love in the future.