KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Mets' worst fears have been realized. Their biggest advantage coming into this World Series -- their only one, actually -- was a young, hard-throwing, fearless rotation that many rightfully proclaimed the most lethal of the 2015 postseason.
And it was. Just not now.
Maybe they're tiring to some degree, or it could be that the Royals -- a relentless, attacking group -- are merely a terrible matchup, especially at the end stage of a long, exhausting season. It's certainly looked that way after the first two games, as both Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, the senior members of the Mets' elite rotation, were unable to prevent them from falling into an 0-2 hole in this best-of-seven series.
Harvey lasted six innings in Tuesday's Game 1 loss and failed to hold a 3-1 lead before his departure. Last night, deGrom suffered a similar fate in Game 2. He surrendered a 1-0 lead as the Royals harassed him for four runs in the fifth inning -- with a leadoff walk and five singles en route to the 7-1 victory.
The two performances were so atypical of the Mets' starters during these playoffs that it had to have a rational explanation. Harvey admitted to not feeling great Tuesday, not having his "best stuff." As for deGrom, he pointed to faulty location, but otherwise reported no issues.
And we couldn't find someone on the Mets ready to suggest that Harvey and deGrom -- whose workloads were so carefully managed during the regular season -- had hit the proverbial wall.
"No, no," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "I still think we're going to win this thing,"
That's definitely possible. An 0-2 deficit is not insurmountable. The '86 Mets dropped the first two at Shea to the Red Sox before fighting their way back to attain baseball immortality, if you're looking for a reason to believe. But the last nine teams to fall behind 0-2 all lost the World Series, and 15 of 16 -- with the '96 Yankees the lone exception.
And if the Mets' staff is indeed OK, as both Warthen and Terry Collins insist, then that's even more troubling for the next two in line, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the former Ward Melville star. If that's the case, and this is the Royals' doing -- as we tend to think -- the Mets are in serious trouble upon returning to Citi Field.
Because what's the solution? The Royals will be sending out the same lineup that badgered Harvey and deGrom -- minus the DH, of course -- and theirs is a style of play that's difficult to slow down, particularly with the momentum they've built up. Harvey and deGrom combined for a total of four strikeouts in those 11 innings, which is remarkable statistic. But how can they strike out the Royals when they rarely, if ever, get deep enough in the count to do so? And never swing and miss?
"There's a lot of good hitters over there," deGrom said. "I think the walks hurt me, and then I couldn't stop the bleeding. I was one pitch away from getting out of there with giving up one run. But I couldn't make that pitch."
The Royals don't allow it to happen. They're content to take what they can -- a walk here, a bloop single there -- and string enough together to ultimately bury the opposing pitcher.
Bottom line, neither Harvey nor deGrom looked anywhere near as dominant as they have been, for whatever reason. It could be they're just not as effective right now, as the innings -- and stress -- have snowballed.
"I don't make excuses," Collins said. "It certainly is a possibility. I'm not going to say it's not. But it's the World Series. We've got to make pitches and we're not making them."
Time is running out. The Mets have two more starts left at Citi Field, with the least experienced of their young guns -- Syndergaard and Matz -- on the mound to save their season. They'll have to do what Harvey and deGrom could not."With Jake going, we've got to come out, give him big hits and give him something to work with," Terry Collins said on the eve of Game 2.