CHICAGO - When Matt Harvey bounded up the dugout steps Monday at Wrigley Field, pitching coach Dan Warthen looked as if he had seen a ghost. So did Terry Collins, who made a beeline toward the spot in rightfield where Harvey casually began tossing.
A half-hour earlier, Collins set off alarms about Harvey's bruised right triceps, which was struck by Dexter Fowler's stinging line drive in the sixth inning of NLCS Game 1. The manager told the assembled media horde that the back of Harvey's pitching arm was swollen and the muscle was stiff, and he suggested that Harvey's availability for a Game 5 start was in jeopardy.
So what began as an otherwise sleepy, routine workout day suddenly had the makings of a major event, with Harvey's injury possibly leaving a giant crater at the core of the Mets' seemingly invincible rotation.
That's how quickly the momentum can shift in a best-of-seven, even as the Mets bring a 2-0 lead into Tuesday night's Game 3.
One night, Noah Syndergaard is making the Cubs look silly by shifting gears from a 99-mph fastball to an 81-mph curve in the 40-degree chill of Citi Field. The next, Collins is considering whom the Mets might use as Harvey's replacement.
For now, it appears the Mets won't need contingency plans. As surprised as Collins and Warthen were to see Harvey playing catch, the fact that he got out of the trainer's room and hit the field calmed their nerves.
After Warthen closely watched Harvey deliver a few tosses, he was asked how the pitcher looked. "Very handsome," Warthen said, smiling.
Based on the levity, even though Harvey was unable to slip Fowler's hard liner, the Mets apparently dodged a bullet. But their young pitchers can find themselves in a danger zone during October, when their extended workloads can take a toll.
We don't know the full extent of the impact the Mets' playoff run has had on the rotation or how it might be negatively affected. But the Mets are in a great position to not only finish off the Cubs early but give their pitchers some well-earned rest.
The Mets don't entirely blame fatigue for Jacob deGrom's struggles in the clinching Game 5 of the Division Series, but there's little doubt it was a contributing factor. His fastball was a few ticks slower and crept a bit higher in the strike zone, a hint that his mechanics were a tad off.
He is human, and between the 121 pitches he threw in Game 1 and the emotionally draining intensity of the postseason, the effort required is unlike anything these pitchers have experienced previously.
"Is fatigue a factor? It may be," Collins said. "This is Jake's third game now on the big stage in a short period of time. Hopefully, he's 100 percent ready and he's locating the way we know he can. And if he does, he's going to get people out."
With fingers crossed, the Mets' assumption here is that the rotation will be fine. Other than Harvey's drilling and deGrom's minor slippage, there are no glaring red flags.
Syndergaard may not have touched triple-digits in Sunday night's Game 2 win, but his fastball had plenty of sizzle and his breaking pitches were nasty as usual. Still, Warthen mentioned how the Mets have pushed Syndergaard -- remember his shutdown seventh-inning relief stint in NLDS Game 5? -- and said he "ran a little bit out of gas."
Because of those concerns, the Mets had strongly considered using Steven Matz on Sunday night to give Syndergaard a few extra days' rest.
If the Cubs rally at Wrigley Field, Syndergaard might have to pitch again in the NLCS, as would Harvey and deGrom if this goes six or seven. Then, if the Mets win, it's right into the World Series, full speed ahead.
The Mets don't need any additional motivation to try to finish off the Cubs, but a few days for the pitchers to catch their breath would be a huge boost for the next round. As of now, they're cashing in on all the innings they banked earlier in the season.
"They're seeing the residue of that rest," Warthen said. "And what has happened after that rest has been extremely powerful." Nearly unstoppable, too.