Perhaps the most appealing thing about New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey isn’t his dominating stuff and his coolest guy in the room attitude, but that he’s the guy in reality that other guys try to portray themselves to be when there’s limited chance of being called on it. He dates bikini models; he threatens giants (Jon Rauch); he effectively straddles the line between obnoxious arrogance and overwhelming confidence; and he’s a gifted talent.
Tuesday night’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was indicative of what Harvey is.
So many use the “I woulda” as an example of what “woulda” happened if “I” was in the area when (insert incident here) happened without any basis of truth. In most cases, the “I wouldas” “woulda” done absolutely nothing. That’s what separates Harvey from the rabble inside and outside of baseball.
Harvey is liked and respected throughout baseball, but he doesn’t let that interfere with him doing his job and adhering to the code of what has to be done independent of personalities. There’s no false bluster or empty threats. Chase Utley didn’t appear to be all that bothered about taking one in the back as clear retaliation for his pitcher, David Buchanan, popping two Mets hitters. No one thinks that Buchanan was intentionally throwing at Wilmer Flores or Michael Cuddyer, but that matters only in a very minimal way. The message was sent not just to the Phillies, but to the rest of baseball and the Mets as well: we’re not taking this crap. Utley gets it because he’s old school and essentially plays the same way Harvey does with little bits of gamesmanship like hard tags, quietly snide comments that only the target hears, and take-out slides. Other players might glare or even charge the mound. If that’s the case, Harvey’s attitude is, “Hey, let’s go.”
For too long, the Mets roster was permeated – or pockmarked – with nice guys; guys who think about consequences too much before acting; guys who don’t realize that the long-term benefits of action sometimes outweigh the short-term sanctions that can result. It’s been an issue for years. In 2000, Mike Piazza was hit in the head by Roger Clemens in a mid-season game against the New York Yankees after Piazza had repeatedly demolished Clemens at the plate. The Mets’ retaliation was Glendon Rusch hitting Tino Martinez in the backside.
The Yankees weren’t sufficiently terrified nor all that impressed after a soft-tossing lefty like Rusch hit Martinez in the one place where hitters would prefer to be hit if they’re going to be hit – his butt.
Manager Bobby Valentine debated whether or not to have the next day’s starter Mike Hampton drill Derek Jeter and ultimately decided against it. In a typical Mets moment of in the intervening years from the “street gang/don’t screw with us or else” years of Keith Hernandez, Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry, the Mets were viewed as cerebral wimps whose lunch money – and postseason money – was there for the taking from baseball’s bullies like Clemens. That’s a long way from 1986 when Knight punched Eric Davis in the face and invited Dave Parker to step into the the next day with Parker (nicknamed “Cobra” for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball) backing down.
Piazza had every right to attack Roger Clemens for flinging the broken bat handle at him in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Few doubt Piazza’s ability to wring Clemens’s neck if it came down to that, but rather than acting instinctively, Piazza weighed the possibility of getting ejected from a World Series game and chose not to fight. In the moment, it’s understandable. In retrospect, would Piazza pounding Clemens have spurred the Mets to win the series? There’s no way to know, but the series couldn’t have gone much worse than the Mets losing in five games.
The Mets have been justifiably viewed as soft. That might be why when there’s a gut-check game – Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS; the last games of the season in 2007 and 2008 against the Florida Marlins – they always lost. Even when they tried to retaliate, it was done in a manner that elicited eye rolls and laughter at the Mets being the Mets. In 2002, when the Mets had the opportunity to finally retaliate against Clemens, Valentine had Shawn Estes – who wasn’t even on the Mets when in 2000 – throw at Clemens. And he missed. When David Wright was beaned by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Johan Santana tried to retaliate by hitting Pablo Sandoval…and he missed too. Then Sandoval hit a home run. That was the pre-Harvey Mets.
The Mets were laughed at because they deserved to be laughed at. They were considered soft because the evidence showed that they were soft. Teams felt they could be pushed around because they could be pushed around.
Matt Harvey’s not soft; he won’t allow his teammates to be soft; and he won’t be pushed around. The message is clear to the other pitchers like Jacob deGrom as well. This is how you protect the hitters.
Reminiscent of former Mets greats Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver, and even Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, he’s going to throw at you if it has to be done. In 1985 Gooden threw a high-90s fastball over Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson’s head after Gullickson threw one over his former Expos battery mate Gary Carter’s head. Carter wasn’t popular with his former Expos teammates and nodded knowingly after the Gullickson pitch. Gooden responded.
Two Mets hitters were hit by pitches. Harvey responded. If teams want to fight over it, he’s ready to do that too. Because he’s not an “I woulda.” He’s an “I would.”
And he did.