There’s a fascinating story going on in New York about why Matt Harvey, perceived to be the Mets’ ace among aces entering the season, is pitching so terribly. Instead, it has morphed into a considerably less-interesting media story about Harvey’s refusal to talk about why he’s pitching so terribly.
Harvey got rocked again Tuesday, allowing five runs — including three homers — in five innings of a 7-4 loss to the Nationals. The defeat dropped his record to 3-7 — the most losses for any pitcher in the NL.
Harvey has allowed a league-high 73 hits in 53⅓ innings. His ERA, 6.08, was higher than that of Red Sox lightning rod Clay Buchholz (5.92) as of Thursday. (Cue a caller making a Harvey-for-Buchholz one-for-one trade proposal on your favorite sports radio station in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .)
It’s uncertain whether Harvey is in the midst of a hideous slump or something more bewildering: a rapid descent from grace. He is already an established star even by New York standards; he even has the requisite tabloid-friendly nickname, the Dark Knight.
He was poised to be one of the city’s genuine kings of sport had he and the Mets held on to a 2-0 lead in Game 5 of last year’s World Series, a game and series eventually won by the Royals.
Now he’s statistically one of the worst pitchers in the major leagues. And the search for answers — is it related to his workload last season, unprecedented for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery? — is suddenly less pressing to those covering the Mets than his not offering any answers.
Harvey chose not to talk to the media after his latest struggle, and to some reporters, that became at least as big a failing as the performance itself.
Wrote John Harper in Wednesday’s New York Daily News:
“You can’t milk baseball stardom for all its worth, practically declare yourself a crossover celebrity with your every photo-shoot and late-night talk show, and then run and hide from tough times. It’s a bad look, to say the least, especially in New York, and not just because of the responsibility that comes with being a rich-and-famous pro athlete.”
Harper makes a fair point on the surface: Harvey should be accountable. His young catcher, Kevin Plawecki, was left to answer the questions, and according to the accounts of Harper and others, Plawecki did not seemed thrilled about being put in that position.
Harvey does have a track record of frustrating his teammates at times. He was late for a mandatory workout before the playoff series with the Dodgers last October, and it did not go over well. Mets captain David Wright scolded him then, and Wright told the New York Post’s Mike Puma in Wednesday’s paper that Harvey should have been accountable Tuesday.
“A lot of us don’t necessarily agree with what he did,” said Wright, “but we take this game very personally, and when we don’t play at a level we’re accustomed to, sometimes we make decisions that we regret.
“You want to be known as an accountable player. You want to be a stand-up guy, and this is a little blip on the radar screen. Hopefully we all learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again.”
However, there does appear to be a detectable level of schadenfreude among the Mets media over Harvey’s failings during and after the game. The headline on the column of Newsday’s David Lennon Tuesday night was, “With nothing to say to media, Matt Harvey’s latest implosion should push him out of Mets’ rotation.”
What does one have to do with the other? He’s pitching poorly. He’s not talking. There is no correlation at all.
The Mets media, in this case, are guilty of something that seeps into too much coverage these days: complaining to the readers about how they are treated. Sure, it is extremely frustrating to waste precious time at deadline waiting for no-shows, especially if it’s someone essential to your assignment. Vince Wilfork and Rajon Rondo got me multiple times over the years, usually after tough losses. It was aggravating. I also knew which side would draw the readers’ sympathies, and it wasn’t mine.
Beat writers will remind you that that they are a conduit to the fans, and that is true. But they are not the only conduit; heck, Harvey carries the tongue-in-cheek title of “New York Bureau Chief” at Derek Jeter’s the Players’ Tribune. He can get his message out — and he can make sure it’s precisely the message he wants to deliver. (It’s ironic that Jeter is the “boss” there, because he mastered the art of worthless availability; he was always there, win or lose, but rarely offered a quote of note.)
Maybe Harvey is being immature. Maybe his lack of accountability did genuinely annoy his teammates. But he’s not really the Dark Knight, some superhero with a 98 m.p.h. fastball and a cool scar on his elbow. He’s human. And he’s failing for the first time in his professional life.
As the Post’s Joel Sherman wrote, “Maybe he is embarrassed or annoyed or talked out. Best of all for him and the Mets would be because he has gone into a period of introspection in which he will find an inner tiger to fight his way back from this nadir.”
It’s a good point. Maybe stepping away and figuring out why his arm is failing him will give him something thoughtful to say. Maybe it won’t. But the story remains what he’s doing during the game, and not what he does in the aftermath.