David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - R.A. Dickey knows what's coming. Fresh from an afternoon workout on the Rogers Centre turf, sitting on the Blue Jays bench, the question is not even asked before Dickey kick-starts the conversation.
"Harvey, right?" Dickey says.
Bingo. He nailed it. With the shocking UCL tear only a day old, and the Mets still reeling, the topic is ripe for Dickey -- last year's Matt Harvey -- to provide some perspective on setbacks, both for the pitcher and the team in Flushing.
This is also familiar territory for Dickey, who climbed back from his own UCL diagnosis -- that he didn't have a UCL -- to win 20 games and the Cy Young Award nearly two decades later. Harvey essentially became Dickey's replacement, and now the Mets have neither.
"It's obviously going to be a terrible loss," Dickey said before yesterday's game against the Yankees. "And if he has the surgery, he's out for all of next year. It's one thing to try to hang on to a little bit of hope in a dismal season. But it's a whole different animal when you got one of your biggest pieces absent for the attempt at a championship season.
"I can certainly say having been with Johan [Santana] and some of his injuries, it's a downer. But golly, what can you do? They tried to protect him. I always thought he took care of himself. It's real unfortunate."
Dickey always figured he'd be around for the maturation of Harvey and Zack Wheeler rather than traded for a package that included yet another developing young gunner such as Noah Syndergaard. But with the depth of their young pitching -- and an eye on saving a few bucks -- the Mets shipped Dickey to Toronto for more building blocks.
That's where his story took an unexpected turn. As part of the Blue Jays' winter makeover -- one that had many predicting a World Series -- Dickey was supposed to be atop the American League East right about now. Instead, he's back talking about the Mets, who actually have a higher winning percentage (.454) than the Jays (.444).
"The record seems to be similar, but the feel is different," Dickey said. "It's not just David Wright and company. You've got a collective here that's pretty good. Not that those [Mets] guys weren't good, but they were about development, and there was no secret to that. Everybody knew that."
The Mets believed they also had an idea of what might happen with Dickey: regression. He improved to 11-12 with Monday's win over the Yankees, and his 4.39 ERA is more than a full run higher than the worst of his three seasons in Flushing. Last year, it was 2.73, and he led the NL in strikeouts (230) and innings pitched (2332/3).
In the wake of Harvey's injury, that last part was of particular importance to Dickey, who suggested that no team can feel all that confident in its stockpile of starting pitchers. By nature, they are a fragile commodity, and as special as Harvey may be, he snapped at 1781/3 innings.
"Will the Mets have a guy who throws 200 innings this year in the starting rotation?" Dickey said. "Will they have a guy that throws 190? It's difficult, man."
Harvey became the third Mets pitcher to suffer a serious elbow ligament injury in 15 months, with Mike Pelfrey and Jeremy Hefner both opting for Tommy John surgery. But Dickey saw these recent problems as "coincidental" and not as a sign of any bigger issues in the handling of their young pitchers. Plus, he throws a knuckleball, and doesn't have to worry about a UCL.
"With Tommy John, you're talking about guys who generate an incredible amount of torque and arm speed," Dickey said. "Your body is not made for that and eventually it's going to say enough."