Wherever your faith lies, either in a higher power or Matt Harvey’s resurgent slider, there was a supernatural feel to the goings-on Thursday night in the Mets’ Universe, a piece of real estate that now stretches from Columbia, South Carolina to Flushing Bay.
The former is the home of the Class A Fireflies, a team you probably didn’t pay much attention to before Tim Tebow, Heisman QB turned MLB wannabe, wound up there to continue the baseball leg of his athletic career. Well, that season kicked off (sorry) Thursday — just as Harvey was about to deliver his first real pitch since July 4 — and Tebow did what the naysayers said he couldn’t. Go yard in his very first at-bat.
For those of us locked in on Harvey at chilly Citi Field, the Tebow phenomenon had to be experienced by proxy, through blurry smartphone videos posted on Twitter. It was like tracking baseball’s Bigfoot, only this was certified proof that Tebow did indeed go deep, smacking an opposite-field homer that leaked over the fence.
After such a seismic Tebow event, we felt the Mets’ front office deserved its I-told-you-so moment, but general manager Sandy Alderson was having none of that.
“Happy for him and the Fireflies,” was Alderson’s brief response to our email.
The subdued tone is probably best moving forward, after a spring where Tebow was humbled by two-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer along with last year’s crown holder, Rick Porcello. Now it’s good to let let him rebuild the Tebow brand in Columbia, an SEC stronghold just a five-hour drive from the Gators’ lair of Gainesville.
And with that one swing, Tebow matched the Mets’ entire homer-production over their first 26 innings, the lone shot provided by Jay Bruce in Tuesday’s frustrating, 12-inning loss to the Braves. Falling under the spell of old pal Bartolo Colon (43 years young) was doubly irritating, and no matter how early it actually was, things tighten up quickly around Citi Field.
Against that backdrop, Tebow’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World almost felt antagonistic toward the Mets, by no fault of his own. And as the scoreless streak stretched to 11 innings, we imagined a postgame news conference with Terry Collins, fresh off a shutout loss to the Braves, being asked his thoughts on Tebow’s home run.
Peppering him about Tebow, after dropping the opening series, might have pushed the manager a bit too far, too soon. Good thing for Collins — and unfortunately for SNY — it didn’t come to that. The Mets finally got on the board in the fifth, courtesy of Travis d’Arnaud’s two-run double, a hit that could not have arrived at a better time, or been delivered by a person in need of it more. No player on the Mets’ roster entered this season under more scrutiny than d’Arnaud, whose suspect defense forced him to the bench for Opening Day. And the only way for d’Arnaud to fend off backup Rene Rivera is by doing damage with his bat. He understands that, too.
“It was awesome when I got the double,” d’Arnaud said.
The hero’s turn came with an unusual twist, however, as d’Arnaud wore a silver crown, dotted with blue crystals, during his postgame media session. Apparently, the wrestling belt — previously awarded to the Mets’ nightly MVP — is on hiatus, and Captain Wright was the one to crown d’Arnaud with the new honor.
“We tried to be original,” d’Arnaud said. “But it’s a little too small for my head.”
Other Mets certainly could have staked their claim to some shiny headgear. Harvey allowed only three hits and two runs over 6 2⁄3 innings, with four strikeouts. Wilmer Flores, getting his platoon chance against Braves lefty Jaime Garcia, belted a two-run homer in the sixth. Flores now has 12 home runs off lefthanders since the start of the 2016 season, tying him with Chris Carter and Franklin Gutierrez for the fourth-most in the majors during that period.
As Flores scrapes for more playing time, those are numbers that will stick in the manager’s head. Flores, however, will try not to obsess about his role.
“We’re all here for one goal and that’s winning games,” Flores said. “It doesn’t matter how.”
Sometimes, like Thursday night, it feels like it does.