And to think Thursday at Citi Field began with such optimism.
When Mickey Callaway stepped up to the microphone in the morning, everyone was holding their collective breath waiting to hear the status of Jacob deGrom’s hyperextended right elbow. The Mets manager made the news even more dramatic by arriving 20 minutes late for his regular pregame media briefing, but he quickly squashed any concerns by revealing that deGrom — incredibly — is structurally sound and remains on schedule for his next start.
“It’s all good,” Callaway said.
The MRI, the doctor’s examination. Just positive vibes. Somehow, contrary to everything we’ve come to expect from the Mets regarding injuries, the team apparently sidestepped catastrophe this time.
A few minutes later, deGrom appeared at his locker and seemed perfectly OK. No wrap on his elbow, wearing his usual easygoing grin.
“They said there was nothing on the MRI,” deGrom said, “so my head is pretty clear.”
We feel it’s our duty to mention that the Mets aren’t completely out of the woods with deGrom until they monitor Saturday’s bullpen session, then see — if he does indeed make his scheduled start Monday — if this elbow-biceps issue creeps up again. But given the state of hysteria created by deGrom’s premature exit Wednesday night, and what a prolonged absence would have meant for the Mets, this deserved a great, big sigh of relief for the Mets and their fans.
Too often with this team, however, any crumb of elation usually is followed up by bitter disappointment, and the shelf life on the deGrom’s revelation lasted roughly three hours. That was the approximate length of time between the moment deGrom finished talking and the end of the Braves’ dismantling of Jason Vargas in the Mets’ embarrassing 11-0 loss to the Braves.
Bottom line: DeGrom’s medical clearance took precedence over anything else that happened in the Mets’ world Thursday. They need deGrom intact to make any kind of run this season, and for all of its ugliness, this week’s sweep by the Braves doesn’t change that. But we also can’t excuse what transpired on the field, and Vargas is showing little resemblance to the starter who won 18 games for the Royals last season.
Remember, this was the free-agent pitcher Sandy Alderson chose to be the most deserving of his $16 million in the offseason. But Vargas has been non-competitive in two starts, to the point that he was bombed for 11 hits and six runs in 4 2⁄3 innings Thursday and still trimmed his ERA from 22.09 to 16.20.
Vargas is coming off surgery to fix a fractured non-pitching hand. Callaway said his delivery may have been thrown out of whack because of the extended rehab using the screen, and after his first starts, it’s as plausible an explanation as any.
The Braves clobbered him for three homers, including a 451-foot rocket by Ronald Acuña Jr. that wound up somewhere in LaGuardia’s air space. After Nick Markakis’ two-run shot in the fifth, the crowd of 26,882 finally got around to booing Vargas and didn’t relent until he was taken out four hitters later.
When the bullpen door opened, however, the fans weren’t all that thrilled to see Matt Harvey. He retired the first four Braves he faced, then allowed five runs in two innings and was booed as he trudged to the dugout, head down, saddled with a 10.50 ERA in four relief outings.
It’s becoming a dismal ritual for him, and though most probably would disagree, Harvey is a pitiful figure now. That’s undeniable. By the time he was asked about his Page Six exploits in L.A. over the weekend, and Alderson’s sharp comments, Harvey shrugged.
“I’m not answering any questions or having any comments about that story,” Harvey said, sounding exhausted rather than irritated.
The air has been steadily draining from the Mets’ 11-1 balloon for a while now. The momentum has faded, and deGrom doesn’t pitch again until Monday, if he’s truly OK. These second-place Mets have plenty of work to do before then.