David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
This was a Harvey Day like no other.
Humbled by Chase Utley, and upstaged by his own manager, Matt Harvey had to fight for center stage on a raucous night at Citi Field that was supposed to belong to him alone. The Mets designed it that way. By slotting Harvey to start the second game of this homestand, they drew 39,849 to see him on a brisk April evening -- a bump of more than 10,000 from the same game last season.
And with the dead-end Phillies in town, it was the perfect set up. When Harvey took the mound to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler screeching "Back in the Saddle" for his warm-up tosses, the crowd took the cue, launching into "Let's Go Har-vey!" chants that gave Citi Field an October feel.
With Harvey in place, after a 19-month absence, what could possibly go wrong? For the Mets, nearly everything went sideways in a freaky 6-5 victory over the Phillies. Harvey escaped with the win, and his health, so he should feel lucky. On a night a few of the Mets were done in by physical issues, Harvey was still able to overcome his human side for six innings.
"Everybody expects him to be Superman," Terry Collins said. "He started out being that way, and all of a sudden, he didn't have his great stuff."
The first two outs were predictable. He made Osdubel Herrera look silly by whiffing him with an 83-mph curve ball, then followed by striking out Freddy Galvis with pure 98-mph heat. But with the crowd volume on blast, Harvey tried to fool Utley with another breaking pitch and he hooked it over the rightfield wall.
Citi Field went silent. Harvey being human is something we all expected to see at some point. There were supposed to be ups and downs on the way back from Tommy John surgery, right? But after all the Harvey worship, his larger-than-life status already at epic levels, Utley's whiplash homer landed like a slap to the face.
It didn't seem possible. Harvey hadn't allowed a home run in 61 innings and now he was just like anyone else. A guy who could make mistakes and get beat by them. Even by these Phillies. "Obviously I came out pretty strong," Harvey said.
"I think as the game went on my pitches were kind of creeping over the middle. Unfortunately it was a couple of bad pitches that caught too much of the plate and they were able to get the best of me."
When Harvey recovered in the first inning to blow away Ryan Howard with a 98-mph fastball, we figured Utley's solo shot was a lucky punch. After racking up five Ks in the first two innings, the Harvey show was back on.
But Harvey kept running into turbulence. In the third inning, with pressure mounting to retaliate for a pair of Mets getting drilled, Harvey rifled a fastball that might have grazed Galvis on the left forearm. Or not. A botched review request by the Mets cost Harvey more than four minutes of standing-around time, and Utley burned him again after the delay with a run-scoring single.
The frustration continued for Harvey in the fourth, when Cody Asche launched a 95-mph fastball onto the Pepsi Porch. During a wild fifth, Harvey delivered some payback by nailing Utley between the 2 and the 6 with a 95-mph fastball. Considering what Utley had done to him earlier, Harvey was lucky to get away with a warning.
"I think I got a little over-amped," Harvey said, managing to keep a straight face. "That one got away."
That same inning, the loudest chants of the night were for Collins -- not Harvey -- as the Citi crowd bellowed, "Ter-ry, Ter-ry" right up until his ejection for arguing a catcher's interference call. Harvey stood a few feet away, looking impatient.
Eventually, Harvey did get the ball back, and popped up Carlos Ruiz to finally end that bizarre fifth inning.
"Once your system is beat up from all the hype and all the stuff he's been through, there's going to be a letdown somewhere," Collins said.