Submission came after an assault on his senses. With every crack of the bat, with every liner that hissed through the air, with every boo and curse that tumbled down from the stands, his resolve grew shakier. Matt Harvey couldn’t take it anymore.
So when Terry Collins made his merciful walk from the dugout in the third inning Thursday night, Harvey met him a few steps before he reached the mound. He quietly handed over the ball, stalked through the dugout and disappeared down the steps to the clubhouse.
Rock bottom had arrived, cloaked in a bitter 9-1 loss to the Nationals that sent the Mets scrambling to piece together the shattered confidence of an ace.
“At this level, that’s a scary thing to have happen, when you don’t know how to fix something because you never had to,” Collins said.
What has happened to Harvey? What’s next? A few days off to recalibrate? A trip to the phantom disabled list with a bruised ego? Nobody knows, of course, so the public deconstruction of what appeared to be a generational talent continues unabated. “I don’t know,” Harvey said when asked if confidence is the problem. “At this point, I have no idea.”
The final line: a career-low 2 2⁄3 innings, a career-high nine runs (six earned), eight hits, two strikeouts. On a major-league field, he had never looked so helpless.
Harvey’s next start is supposed to fall against these same Nationals in Washington next week, on the same stage he used last year to return from Tommy John surgery. The appearance is far from a given.
“Is that best for him? Is that best for us?” Collins said. “We’re not going to commit to anything at this time.”
The manager ruled out nothing, even a trip to the doctor, even though Harvey again insisted that he’s physically fine. Said Collins: “We’ve got to consider every angle we can.”
There was a time when Collins would have had to pry the baseball from Harvey’s hand. There was a time when Harvey would have sprinted from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound. There was a time when the fans here mocked Stephen Strasburg with chants of “HAR-VEY’S BETTER!”
But Thursday night, with the Mets down eight runs with two outs in the third, there was only the flood of thousands of boos and one shattered myth. Even the enemy recoiled at how it has all turned. “I feel sorry for him,” said the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who collected his first hit off Harvey after 21 unsuccessful tries.
In issuing his latest vote of confidence before the game, Collins hoped that adrenaline would brace Harvey the way it has so many times in the past. The Mets needed him to pitch well to avoid dropping two of three to their rivals.
That hope disappeared four batters in when old friend and new tormentor Daniel Murphy hammered a sloppy 0-and-2 curveball over the fence for a two-run homer, and it only got worse. The Nationals scored seven runs in the third, the culmination of shoddy defense and shaky pitching.
In the scouts’ section, talent evaluators described a stranger. Harvey’s pitches lacked life, sharpness, movement. One concluded with this stinging epithet: “The hitters are not fearing him.”
Kevin Plawecki refused to visit the mound during the third-inning barrage, clinging to his vision of the Dark Knight. Said Plawecki: “He’s not the type who needs to be patted on the back.”
By the time Collins stepped onto the crushed dirt of the mound, Harvey’s ERA had climbed to 5.77 and his record was on the way to 3-6.
For years, Harvey’s audacity has defined him. He has carried himself like the owner of an EZ-Pass to Cooperstown, even before the 30th win of his career. But as the boos and the vitriol rained down and his manager emerged with the hook, he barely could wait to seek shelter in the clubhouse.
“It’s my job to go out there and keep working and figure this thing out,” he said, his words as tentative as his pitches. “That’s all I’m going to do is start over tomorrow, keep working hard and do everything I can to fix this.”
Matt Harvey’s pitching line:
IP 2 2⁄3
Runs 9 (6 earned)