When he returns to the Mets’ clubhouse on Tuesday after his three-game suspension, Matt Harvey will make the most important appearance of his big-league career.
In front of his toughest audience.
Harvey will have to decide whether and how to address the 24 other guys he let down when he failed to show up for work on Saturday. Much will be said and written about whatever statement Harvey makes to the hungry media, but that will pale in comparison with what — if anything — he says to the teammates who presumably don’t consider it too much to come to the ballpark every day, even if they have a migraine after playing golf (which Harvey reportedly said Saturday when the Mets finally got in touch with him).
The Mets suspended Harvey for violating team rules and were forced to call up non-prospect Adam Wilk to pitch in Harvey’s place against the Marlins on Sunday. A lackluster, totally predictable 7-0 loss ensued. The three home runs Giancarlo Stanton (two) and Adeiny Hechavarria hit off the overmatched Wilk have yet to come down. Wilk was cut from the roster on Monday.
In his comments, Harvey needs to summon his best, most sincere self and follow up by summoning his best fastball — if he’s still able — when he takes the mound again on Friday in Milwaukee.
Why Milwaukee and not Citi Field on Wednesday, when the Mets desperately need a starter? One reason could be fear of crowd reaction. Another could be that the distractions in Milwaukee are limited to brats and cheese, not Rangers playoff games, supermodels and rope lines.
Manager Terry Collins, who was mostly mum after Harvey’s punishment was announced, opened up and delivered an impassioned defense of his former ace on Monday. Collins didn’t excuse Harvey’s actions, but he placed himself squarely in his corner for what comes next.
“I know one thing about our society,” Collins said. “You stand up, be accountable and move on. And you know what? People forget about it. We saw what happened in 2015 when we had an innings-limit thing with Matt and he decided ‘I’m going to pitch anyway’ and he went out and 48,000 people were chanting his name in the World Series. It will happen again.”
Both parts of that statement could be wishful thinking on Collins’ part. Will Harvey really stand up and be accountable, both in public and private?
Already, whispers from Harvey’s camp are that the Mets overreacted to a medical issue. If the players’ union decides to file a grievance over the suspension, Harvey might be less willing to admit he did anything wrong (or say he is there only to talk about Qualcomm).
And the idea of a Citi Field full of Mets fans again chanting his name, as they did in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, seem as far away as when “Harvey Day” was a big thing in Flushing.
The Mets lost that World Series game despite Harvey’s brilliance. Since then, he has had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and is 6-12 with a 4.94 ERA.
One of the snarky comments at Citi Field was that the Mets are ending Harvey’s suspension on Tuesday because if they didn’t, he’d just go to the Rangers-Senators playoff game at the Garden anyway.
The person who said it meant it as a joke but wasn’t laughing because it seems quite plausible. That’s the perception Harvey has to start changing among his teammates on Tuesday — a new kind of Harvey Day, and perhaps the biggest one yet.