The New York Mets, once the hottest team in baseball, are hitting turmoil at the worst possible time.
In perhaps their most important Subway Series ever, facing a Yankees team fighting for first place in the AL East, the Mets saw their lead for the NL East shrink because of a health precaution for star pitcher Matt Harvey.
The Mets and Harvey’s agent Scott Boras went to war earlier this month over a 180-inning limit for Harvey, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery last year.
With Harvey nearing that number, Boras wanted him shut down; the Mets, obviously, wanted otherwise.
They’ve since come to something of a compromise, though it severely limits Harvey’s availability. In the midst of a dominant start, in which he had struck out seven in five innings, Harvey got pulled to maintain his innings count with the Mets leading 1-0. In the ensuing inning, Mets rookie reliever Hansel Robles got pounded as the Yankees scored five runs to take a 5-1 lead. The lead only grew as the game went on, and the Yankees took an 11-2 win and won the series.
Though the Mets still have a six-game lead for first place with only 13 games and an easy schedule left, there’s still a modicum of doubt about their ability to seal their first playoff appearance in nine years.
Though Harvey caught flak for initially agreeing with Boras on his inning limit, he later wrote on The Players’ Tribune that he’ll be pitching in the playoffs no matter what. On Sunday, he made it sound like the decision to come out of the game was out of his hands, saying, “More than anything, I want to be out there. I want to be out there more than anything. I know where I want to be, and that’s on a mound, pitching for the Mets.”
Mets manager Terry Collins, who’s been placed in perhaps the most difficult position of all, deciding between maintaining Harvey’s best interests and team’s best interests, said:
“It’s hard. We’ve waited since I’ve been here – we’ve waited five years to be in this situation. And now you’ve got your No. 1 pitcher, you’ve got to watch what he does. Your No. 2 pitcher, we’re skipping. Your No. 3 pitcher, we’ve already skipped. In a pennant race. But it’s for the best of all of them. It’s for the best of the organization. And so you suck it up and move on and get ready for the next day.”
Things aren’t getting easier from here for the Mets. With the Nationals still nipping at their heels, the Mets still have to win games to clinch a playoff berth. Meanwhile, there had been some hope that if the Mets won the series with the Yankees, they could rest Harvey until the playoffs.
Now, with the Mets’ season-ending series coming against the Nationals, they may still need Harvey to pitch, but he would likely still have to operate in reduced innings. Placing Harvey in a high-pressure series (potentially), but limiting him, and then starting him for the playoffs, is probably one of the worst-case scenarios for all involved.
The Mets have to tight-rope from here on out – play Harvey enough to give them a shot at a win, while monitoring how many innings and pitches he can throw, wary that they could be ignoring the doctor’s orders.