Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Fighter Still Remains

Usually on Opening Day, I kind of reflect on how the Mets sit in front of me and what they'd need to do in order to move themselves forward. Most seasons it seemed like kind of a fruitless exercise because even if everything went right, and it usually didn't, the Mets were still a long way from getting to where they needed to be. It's obviously different this year, because at some point in 2015 the Mets turned into a legitimate team and rode the wave all the way down to the World Series.

We, of course, know what happened from there.

But in some odd juxtaposition that could only happen in a Baseball World, a season that extended so late into the year that it created the shortest Offseason in Mets history probably felt like the longest, or at least it did for me, and probably because I keep reflecting on that final night of the season, on November 1st. Mere 5 months ago feels like ages, I guess because of how that evening keeps running through my head.

I tend to come back to Matt Harvey, and how he's kind of become a punching bag in the media. Sure, some of this he brings upon himself, but in reality, what is Matt Harvey's fault other than being talented, handsome and arrogant? The point is, would some of the stories about Matt Harvey even be stories if it didn't involve him? But Harvey off the field is of little interest to me. So long as he doesn't end up doing something stupid and really getting himself in serious trouble, it's not my business. When he's on the field, pitching for my team, then it is my business.

And that's what brings me back to the first and only time the Mets played Baseball in November. Because on that night, Harvey stood out intent to pitch the game of games and stamp his name in Baseball lore. Because for 8 innings, Harvey pitched with the kind of ferocity I'd never seen out of him, to the point where he stomped off the mound screaming after striking out the side.

In the 7th inning, I was quite certain that Harvey was finishing the game, win or lose, because at that point, he was pitching so well and his level of intensity was so high that I figured him likely to put Terry Collins through the dugout wall if he attempted to pull him from the game. Of course, that led to the now-infamous 8th inning discussion in which Harvey talked himself back into the game, failed to seal the deal, and instead of being a hero, he became this offseason's punchline.

But again, why should Matt Harvey be laughed at for trying to will his way through the game? It seems to me that if he'd come out, and Jeurys Familia ended up blowing the game, then Harvey's a jerk for coming out. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, but I'll never blame Matt Harvey for demanding to finish out the game. Far as I'm concerned, he deserved the opportunity to do so. It didn't work out, the Mets lost the lead, lost the game, lost the World Series. And for 5 months now, he's had to carry that around just as much as all of us fans have had to, and it sucks.

It did, however, lead to this scene, which I still find incredible so I'm going to show it to you again:

I talked, after that game, about how the Mets had to remember the feeling. Remember how the season ended. But there's two ways this can go. Some teams have had painful ends to a season and ended up carrying it around as baggage that took all the starch out of the team the following season. As though so much emotion had been built up on that game that the loss was too catastrophic to recover from. Other teams use the feeling as springboard to drive them through the following season.

Certainly, the Mets appear like a team primed to do the latter. Most of these guys on the team are too young to have the baggage of so many losing seasons and none of them were around the last time the franchise was coming off a horrible Postseason loss. But you really don't know until you see it in action. The fact that they'll be starting things off with their World Series opponent throwing a celebration in their faces might be a good thing for them. Certainly, giving Matt Harvey the Opening Night start on The Biggest Game In The Galaxy is a good opportunity for him to make the a statement that people ought to just focus on his pitching. That's all that should matter about him for the next 6-7 months.

It's a long way back to get to where the Mets were last season, and of course not many get the opportunity to play in that arena in back-to-back seasons. But the Mets certainly appear capable of doing so. It becomes a matter of using everything that went on last season as a means to springboard them forward. It goes beyond whatever stats and numbers might tell you about a player or a team. The Mets didn't have that look at times last year, but what they did have was a whole that felt greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, they had guys like Harvey, or Jacob deGrom, or Noah Syndergaard, or Yoenis Cespedes who got most of the ink, but ultimately, none of them felt themselves above the team, which is key. The Mets developed a fighter's spirit last season that held across the roster and appears to still be there as they get ready to try and better the results of 2015. This starts with Matt Harvey but it's going to be on display every time the Mets take the field this season.

Hopefully, the ending will turn out right this time.

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