Missed Call: The Bin’s weekly roundup of the things you might have missed, this week in baseball.
Week 2: The Dark Knight vs. The Dark Knight
Mets-Phillies, April 14
In a 2013 feature article, Sports Illustrated dubbed New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey “The Dark Knight of Gotham,” and the moniker has stuck.
And since Harvey missed the 2014 baseball season due to elbow surgery, ESPN profiled him this month in a feature called, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Why not? It mingles promise and menace in equal parts. It’s a great marketing concept.
Harvey has dark hair, sure, but otherwise the nickname seems, well, gratuitous. Harvey has an intensely competitive personality and a pitching technique to match. He intends to be the best, and he just might do it. It’s hard to say just how “Dark Knight” this is, but never mind. Harvey also seems determined to enjoy being New York City’s most eligible bachelor, and that cements the resemblance to Bruce Wayne just fine.
image credit: ESPN
The fans are wild for their Dark Knight. Harvey is not the only Mets pitching star (his teammate Jacob deGrom was last year’s National League Rookie of the Year). But you can’t help feel that when Harvey pitches, something incredibly special will happen. The Dark Knight, after all, has all the toys and tricks – and all the moves – to reduce any line of resistance to rubble. At least, that’s his reputation. You make sure you watch.
On Tuesday, April 14, Harvey took the mound in front of a near-capacity home crowd to face the Philadelphia Phillies. It was his first home game since August 2013. In the first two innings, he struck out five of the seven batters he faced. The Dark Knight, as advertised!
But in the third inning, things got weird. The Mets started the inning with a nice 3-run lead. The first batter Harvey faced singled to first. The second batter bunted the baserunner over to second. The third batter flied out to left. So with two outs and a runner in scoring position, the fourth batter came up. Harvey threw a pitch way high and inside. Motioning that the pitch had hit the batter, the umpire sent him to first base.
Managers have a limited right to challenge calls on the field, and we could see Mets manager Terry Collins and his bench coach talking on the phone to their video room. Fans in the ballpark and at home were treated to multiple replays, and none of us could see the ball hit the batter. Things started to get rowdy. Collins came out of the dugout and the umpires set about reviewing the video to see if the batter had truly been hit. The Mets broadcasters lost their minds when they realized that Collins had asked the umpires for a crew review, calling it “baloney” and other cleaned-up versions of what we knew they were really thinking.
The fans were rowdy and the broadcasters angry because the result of the crew review was an almost four-minute delay of the game. Matt Harvey, everyone complained, was left dangling. He cooled down, they said. Above all, he lost his rhythm, that precious and delicate intangible that holds pitchers hostage in today’s major leagues. Unlike normal people, Dark Knights can’t handle a four minute break. They lose their effectiveness. And with the very next pitch he threw, Matt Harvey proved it. He gave up a single to left field that drove in the runner from second. The Mets’ lead was cut to two.
Harvey’s strike-out count slumped. After striking out five of the first seven Phillies he faced, Harvey only struck out three in the next three innings, giving up a home run in the process.
In the fourth inning, the umpire’s crew chief went to the press box to clarify what happened. Manager Terry Collins had to request a crew review because Harvey himself, not thinking about the rules of the game, had stepped on the rubber to pitch. That action eliminated the option of a manager’s challenge.
For those readers who are not all that interested in the finer details of major league baseball, put it this way: Matt Harvey had to endure a delay of game and lose his rhythm because Matt Harvey goofed.
I’d love to see these top-shelf tough guys be a little tougher. Since it was Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, our annual celebration of the extraordinary grit required for Mr. Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier, I’ll tell you a quick story about a tough guy pitcher. This comes from Vice Sport’s excellent Jackie Robinson Day feature about Negro League pitchers who broke the color line. The great Satchel Paige, scheduled to pitch in June of 1942, was doubled over with stomach cramps before the game. People were concerned and wanted him to see a doctor, and he refused.
"Do you see all those people out there?" he said, according to the Washington Times-Herald. "Lot of them came out to see Satch pitch, and Satch has gotta pitch."
He actually threw up on the mound in the third inning, his teammates around him to block the crowd’s view. And he took some antacids and went on pitching. Writing about it for the Pittsburgh Courier, Hall of Fame writer Wendell Smith said Paige “handled [the opposing hitters] like babies.”
I’m not sure I expect any player to be quite that tough, but please show me you can handle a four-minute delay. Guess what? The Phillies pitcher opposing Matt Harvey that night, David Buchanan, sat around in the dugout during the same four-minute delay. In his next inning, he got three outs on 10 pitches. In Matt Harvey’s house.
You sell a lot of gear when you have a good marketing campaign, and I’m sure plenty of Dark Knight-inspired souvenirs will sell this year. That's good news for the Mets, but the news for fans is much better. My oh my! With an ESPN feature and all the fuss, every guy on every team wants to take down the Dark Knight. And Matt Harvey looked awfully human Tuesday night. Every one of his scheduled starts this season will be a contest worth watching. Matt Harvey’s got the stuff. Let’s see if he can toughen up and bring it.
Choose Your Weekend Series
I promise I won’t become a Mets-obsessed columnist this season, but clearly I’m interested in seeing Matt Harvey’s next start, and I always want to see Jacob deGrom pitch. So I’ll be watching Mets-Marlins this weekend. DeGrom gets the Saturday start, Harvey the Sunday start. This should be good.