MIAMI — There was a time when Matt Harvey might have gotten away with hanging a slider. Even against the most dangerous of hitters, raw stuff buys this kind of leeway.
These times, however, are not about the beauty that arises from the blend of an electric arm and an outsized ego. These are times of struggle, of desperation, of a diminished talent waging a battle against his own bruised body.
So when Harvey let fly with a slider that floated toward the plate like a helium balloon, there was no suspense. With Giancarlo Stanton standing in the batter’s box, there was only certainty, and then a pop.
Stanton cut loose with a powerful swing. Harvey turned his head, the sound alone leaving him resigned to his failure. Smashed with the trajectory of a thinned 2-iron, the baseball barely missed crashing into the metal monstrosity that is used to celebrate home runs here. It was Stanton’s 55th of the season, and the signature moment of Harvey’s latest nightmare on Monday night, when the Marlins hammered the Mets, 13-1.
“Nothing’s good,” said Harvey, who was shelled for seven runs in four-plus innings. “It was terrible all the way around. There’s nothing to say.”
For the second straight start, Harvey broke from form. Gone were the feeble attempts to slap smiley faces on his awful numbers. Positive slogans were replaced by honesty and rawness and resignation. His words revealed the freshest wounds inflicted by a game that feeds on cruelty.
“Everything,” Harvey said, when asked about the most frustrating part of a four-start stretch in which he has a 13.19 ERA. “Everybody’s watching. I don’t really know what there is to say except for there is nothing to say. It’s terrible. It’s not fun. There’s really nothing to say. There’s no reason for questions. There’s no answers. There really isn’t. You’re going to write what you want to write anyway. Obviously, it’s deserved. So whatever you want to write, there’s nothing to say.”
There is no disputing the enormity of Harvey’s challenge. His arm has been ravaged, first by Tommy John surgery, then by a procedure last July to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. This season, he was sidelined for more than two months with a stress injury to his shoulder, fallout from last year’s surgery.
Arm strength has returned in drips, an excruciatingly slow process that has left him frustrated. The results have been brutal. This season, he has just as many earned runs as he has strikeouts: 62.
“When he was at the top of his game, he had three swing-and-miss pitches,” Terry Collins said. “Right now, he doesn’t have that.”
Harvey had been one of the game’s most promising young arms. Now, he’s 28, and the owner of a career mark of 34-34.
Harvey’s fastball touched 96 mph against the Marlins. But he showed little command. By the fourth, he was in trouble.
Dee Gordon bunted his way on and Harvey followed by drilling Tomas Telis with a fastball to his backside. Up came Stanton, who had not homered in his last six games. He had been 2-for-17 against Harvey all-time with nine strikeouts.
Earlier, Stanton struck out on a 96-mph fastball upstairs, a flicker of vintage Harvey. The next confrontation ended with a four-pitch walk. But with two on in the fourth, Stanton took a heater, then jumped on the slider. Until Monday, the slugger had never homered against Harvey.
Afterward, when asked if he wants to keep pitching, Harvey insisted he wanted to press on. He cited not joy, or satisfaction, but obligation
“Yeah, this is my job,” Harvey said. “This is what I’m supposed to do. You have to keep pushing, and go back out there and do everything you can to be better. Obviously, that’s not working, so you have to figure something else out.”
Collins once put the team’s World Series hopes in Harvey’s hands, and once again he said there was nothing to lose by sending the pitcher back to the mound. But later, even he left open the possibility that the exercise may be bordering on counterproductive.
“We’ll talk about other options,” Collins said. “But we don’t have a lot.”
Indeed, these are different times.
Extra bases: Shortstop Amed Rosario was a late scratch with an upset stomach . . . From today through Thursday, the Mets will be accepting donations at Citi Field as part of a hurricane relief drive. Donations will be taken in front of the Jackie Robinson rotunda each day from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.