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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Matt Harvey would have been Mets' best foot forward

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey works

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey works in the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday, March 27, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla. Credit: AP / John Bazemore

WASHINGTON - It all begins Monday in our nation's capital.

The Mets, who have been selling hope and change for about five years now, will take the field with Matt Harvey on the mound and begin their quest to unseat the Washington Nationals as masters of the National League East.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Harvey won't be on the mound Monday. Bartolo Colon will be.

Why is that again?

Right. The Mets' logic was flawless on this one: Which pitcher starts on Opening Day is not a big deal, they said. It's also an honor, they said, and you can't give such an (unimportant, totally meaningless) honor to a pitcher who was hurt all of last year, even if he is the heart and soul of your staff and looked like the righthanded version of Sandy Koufax throughout spring training.

Just remember that the next time your boss gives you a plaque (or an awkward hug) instead of a raise. That's the definition of an unimportant honor.

So Colon gets the opener and Jacob deGrom gets game two and Harvey gets game three. And Mets fans get their first chance to dog Terry Collins if Colon pitches against Max Scherzer the way he did in spring training (7.02 ERA).

So let's start over: It all begins Monday in our nation's capital. The Mets, who went 4-15 against the Nationals last season, will try to take it to Washington, the team they have to beat to get back to the playoffs.

How do we know this? Collins told us so a few weeks ago when he announced that Colon, and not his best pitcher, would be starting the opener.

"The whole philosophy is we've got to beat the Washington Nationals," the manager said. "That's the team we have to go after."

That Collins made the announcement in a corner outside the visiting clubhouse in Jupiter, Florida, after an exhibition game said plenty about just how not a big deal the organization considered it. The Mets seemed a little baffled when it became a topic of conversation in New York, as if people didn't have the right to question not starting your ace in the first game.

No sirree, the Mets had a plan when spring training began and they were not going to deviate from it, even when it became clear that Harvey was throwing bullets and feeling frisky.

When Zack Wheeler went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Harvey talked about putting "the whole staff on my shoulders."

That doesn't sound like a guy who needs to be protected from getting too geeked up on Opening Day. That sounds like a guy you want to point at the opposition from Day One. Maybe bloody Washington's noses right out of the gate. Maybe set a tone like your last World Series-winning team from 1986.

Ed Lynch didn't start on Opening Day in '86. Dwight Gooden did. Pitched a complete game to beat the Pirates. But people ruled the game then, not computers.

Look, we get that by October, it won't matter a bit who started the opener. But it's not October yet, not by a long shot. The Mets aren't guaranteed anything.

Optimism flowed around this team throughout spring training. But it's a fragile optimism -- as Mets-related optimism usually is -- and easily can be snuffed out by a bad opening stretch.

The Mets (and their lame-duck manager) don't have the luxury of a slow start. Not when their first foe is the team Collins said they have to beat.

It all begins Monday in our nation's capital. Matt Harvey is ready. Matt Harvey will have to wait.

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