KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This was hours before Game 2, hours before the Mets’ second straight World Series defeat, hours before the Royals beat down Jacob deGrom the way they beat down virtually every starter in October.
The broadcast teams were moving through the Mets clubhouse, and Matt Harvey shared a visit with fellow Tommy John alum John Smoltz, who is working the series for MLB International.
To Harvey, the loser of Game 1, the conversation was enlightening, and it had virtually nothing to do with the Royals’ relentless attack.
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How much of this Series is turning on the Royals’ aggressiveness, and how much of it is turning on the Mets’ starters possibly wearing down in unchartered territory?
No one can say for sure. But the question certainly is valid, and Harvey alluded to it when I spoke to him before the game.
“I’m starting to realize the process of coming back after throwing zero innings (last season) to 208 (his current total in 2015, including postseason),” Harvey said.
“The biggest thing was having time off in between starts. I went out there (Tuesday night) and felt like I had no idea how to pitch, no idea what I was doing with anything.
“After the first pitch (Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run), I had to dig down and work hard. I only threw 80 pitches. But I worked so hard from pitch one, and really didn’t feel like I had anything to work with.”
Harvey had an eight-day layoff before his Division Series start against the Dodgers, in which he pitched only five innings, and a nine-day layoff before his Game 1 start against the Royals, in which he lost a 3-1 lead in the sixth.
He made no excuses — “I take the blame for the loss,” he said. “I should be able to go out in the sixth and not give up a run.” But then deGrom started Wednesday night’s 7-1 defeat and managed only three swings and misses in five innings, none on his fastball.
Afterward, Joel Sherman of the New York Post asked manager Terry Collins if the workloads of Harvey and deGrom might finally be affecting their performances.
“You know me, you’ve been around me a long time, I don’t make excuses,” Collins said. “That certainly is a possibility. I’m not going to say it’s not. But I’m not going to sit here and say that. It’s the World Series. We’ve got to make pitches and we’re not making them.
“We gave Jake some extra rest (deGrom pitched Game 2 so he could start on seven days’ rest) and he came out and was looking good and all of a sudden balls were in the middle of the plate. … We can sit here and it’s easy to make excuses and say, ‘Hey, it’s the workload, it’s the days off, it’s the youth, on the big stage.’ I’m not going to say that.
“Look, the Royals have a good team. We’ve got to make better pitches and we’ve got to play better.”
No argument — the Mets managed just two hits, frustrating some club officials who thought their offense should have fared better against Johnny Cueto, who became the first AL pitcher to throw a World Series complete game since Jack Morris in his Game 7 masterpiece in 1991.
Yet, this all can turn quickly when the Series resumes Friday at Citi Field, where the Royals will be unable to start designated hitter Kendrys Morales. The Mets’ Game 3 and 4 starters, righty Noah Syndergaard and lefty Steven Matz, were downright electric in simulated games on Monday in Kansas City — with Syndergaard, in particular, looking anything but tired.
As Collins said, “We win because we ride our starting pitching. When they struggle, we’re going to struggle.” At this point, it would be understandable if they struggled — all but Matz significantly increased their workloads this season, despite the Mets’ best efforts to space out their innings. But though deGrom has now gone three straight starts without his best command, the sample for the rotation overall still might be too small to draw firm conclusions.
If the Mets win the next two games, the answers might be more concrete — Harvey would start Game 5 on the standard four days’ rest and deGrom Game 6 on five. Collins said Harvey is “kind of erratic” after prolonged breaks, but actually the righty had a 1.88 ERA in eight starts on six or more days’ rest during the regular season.
Then again, the answer simply might be that the Harvey and deGrom are tired; the Mets already plan to back off their starters next spring and possibly even in April, knowing how much each pitched in 2015. But I remember during the ’07 postseason when I asked then-Indians GM Mark Shapiro about the mounting totals of CC Sabathia and Roberto Hernandez (then Fausto Carmona). Shapiro essentially replied by saying, “What would you like me to do, stop pitching them?”
The Mets are in the exact same position — yes, even with Harvey and his supposed innings limit. If the end is near, so be it. The team’s journey to this point has been nothing short of breathtaking. And its future, while hardly guaranteed, holds even more promise.