After a stellar eight innings, Mets manager Terry Collins sent his ace Matt Harvey back out onto the mound for the ninth—a decision which quickly went awry
NEW YORK — “No way. No way.”
It was easy to read Matt Harvey’s lips in the dugout after he pitched eight stellar innings against the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night. It was the kind of performance the Mets and their fans had been desperate to get from him: a shutdown, shutout effort that they hoped would save them from elimination, a heroic piece of work worthy of an ace nicknamed the Dark Knight.
All night, the fans at Citi Field had been chanting his name—“Har-vey! Har-vey!”—as he piled up strikeout after strikeout. He totaled nine against the Royals, who don’t normally do that sort of thing. But while the Mets batted in the bottom of the eighth with a 2–0 lead, manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen told Harvey they were contemplating taking him out and letting closer Jeurys Familia handle the ninth.
“No way,” Harvey said over and over. “No way. No [bleeping] way.”
His determination persuaded Collins—“If you could have seen the look in this kid’s eyes,” he said—and if this were a fictional tale, Harvey would have gone out in the ninth and rewarded his manager’s trust in him by firing one more scoreless inning and sending the World Series back to Kansas City for Game 6. The narrative would have been neat and complete. You could see it coming. “No way” would become the Mets’ mantra. “No way” t-shirts would be printed up. #NoWay would be trending on Twitter. But in real life, there was no way Kansas City would cooperate with the Mets’ best-laid plans, which is the reason the Royals staged yet another comeback and won their first World Series title in 30 years on Sunday with a 7–2 victory.
Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain to start the ninth then surrendered an RBI double to Eric Hosmer. The lead was down to 2–1 and Harvey’s night was over. Before long, the Mets would be thinking, “No way,” but for an entirely different reason. Defiance would give way to disbelief. No way could the Mets make critical defensive misplays for the second straight game. No way would the Royals win for the third time in the series after the Mets led in the eighth inning or later. But that’s exactly what happened. Hosmer scored the tying run in the ninth when he broke from third and raced to the plate as third baseman David Wright threw out Mike Moustakas on a ground ball. First baseman Lucas Duda hurriedly threw home but it sailed high and wide past catcher Travis d’Arnaud.
“A good throw would have had him,” Collins said afterward, and he was right. From there it went into extra innings and the Royals won it, inevitably it seemed, with a five-run 12th inning that made them World Series champions.
In a way, it wasn’t surprising that the Mets’ season came down to a decision over allowing Harvey to pitch because the care and treatment of his valuable right arm in his first season back after Tommy John surgery has been a topic of conversation all year. Collins wrestled with those choices from April to November, and there was always the knowledge that he would be criticized no matter what he did. Sunday was no different.
“I told him that was enough [after the eighth],” Collins said. “He said, ‘I want this game. I want it bad. You’ve got to leave me in.’ Obviously I let my heart get in the way of my gut. I love my players and I trust them. So I said, ‘O.K., go get ‘em.’ It didn’t work out, but that’s my fault, not his.”
Harvey regretted the outcome, but not his lobbying to stay in the game.
“I felt great,” he said. “I really thought I could finish. If I had it to do over again I would have said the same thing in the dugout.”
Collins’s decision was understandable. Harvey had thrown 102 pitches going into the ninth inning, not an excessively high amount. He had shown no signs of tiring, and it wasn’t as though Familia was the near-automatic option that he had been all season; he had already blown two saves in the series. Collins will be second-guessed for allowing Harvey to sway his decision, but the choice itself was not without logic. Allowing him to stay in the game after the leadoff walk to Cain, however, is more problematic. It would have made sense to let Harvey go until he allowed a base runner.
“If you’re going to take him out after just one guy then you shouldn’t have let him go out there at all,” Collins said, ignoring the fact that managers do that all the time. Allowing Harvey to pitch to the lefthanded hitting Hosmer was playing with fire, and the Mets got burned.
“I’m going to second-guess myself for a long time,” Collins said. “I won’t be sleeping much the next couple of days, I’ll tell you that.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if Duda tosses and turns for a while, too. Had his throw home been on target, d’Arnaud probably would have tagged Hosmer for the final out of the game.
“You have to tip your hat,” Duda said. “It took a lot of [guts] for him to make that play. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and I just didn’t make a good throw. No excuses.”
The play continued the Mets’ habit of crumbling defensively in the late innings, which is as big a reason as any that they couldn’t stop the Royals’ string of comebacks. It might seem as though the Mets were just a play or two away from reversing the series, but make no mistake—the Royals outclassed them in almost every area, including defense, speed and relief pitching.
It was a sloppy, disappointing end to a season the Mets and their fans could only have dreamed of back in the spring. The Mets stared down the Washington Nationals, preseason World Series favorites, to win the NL East. Then they outlasted the Dodgers and swept the Cubs in the playoffs to reach the Series.
“It’s been tremendous,” Wright said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that shouldn’t overshadow everything this team accomplished.”
The Mets are National League champions, and though there will likely be significant changes next year, the starting rotation of Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, should make them contenders for the foreseeable future. Does that ease the disappointment of watching the Royals celebrate the title they came so close to winning?
“In time, we’ll be able to appreciate the overall big picture better,” Wright said.
But for now? No way.