In times of darkness and trouble, a leader steps up and becomes the hero society needs. In movies and comics books, it’s Batman who swoops in and saves the city of Gotham from the Joker. For the New York Mets, they needed a hero to rise during Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. That hero they needed was recently designated for assignment (DFA’ed) starter Matt Harvey, who in his peak was the star and ace the Mets had longed for since the days of Johan Santana and Tom Seaver. Unfortunately, Harvey could only be the hero for eight out of nine of those innings before the villainous Kansas City Royals got to him to steal the game and the World Series. Of course, looking back after the fact, it is easy to think: How could Terry Collins possibly let Matt Harvey stay in the game? Why didn’t Harvey recuse himself from the game to let the bullpen finish the game? But looking back at this moment from both of their perspectives can give insights into why, under the pressure of the situation, Matt Harvey came out for the ninth inning despite having already thrown 101 pitches.
Matt Harvey’s Perspective: A person with a calm demeanor and thinking rationally would of course in that situation think that Harvey should take himself out of the game, let Jeurys Familia or Addison Reed finish the job and let the Mets season survive another day. That was my thoughts out in Big Apple Reserved seats after the eighth inning of Game 5. But then again, I was a fan just watching the game. I was not Matt Harvey, who had just thrown eight shutout innings in the biggest game of his life.
From Harvey’s perspective, it’s easy to see in retrospect why he would demand to come back out and pitch the ninth inning. Being penned the “Dark Knight of Gotham” in a 2013 Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci, Harvey became the Mets’ ace and “savior,” despite his young age. With such pressure on himself, Harvey took it upon himself to be the one to close out the game. He had already gone eight innings with nine strikeouts and had just gotten a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth. The Mets’ win expectancy at that point was 94%. There was no reason for Harvey to think he couldn’t finish that game. But it also was the exact example of mistakes made in leaders; his distrust of the bullpen was most likely an example of recency bias, even though the Mets bullpen had performed well during the season and stayed slightly above average in FIP. But instead, he was almost certainly looking at the bullpen that had just lost Games 1 and 4 of the series. He couldn’t trust them to get that game finished, so he put it upon himself to get it done.
As the leader, Harvey had to be the one to finish the game. Think back to all the great postseason performance. They don’t end with the star pitcher pitching eight innings and then leaving before the ninth despite a dominant performance. Aces finish games. With all this said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Harvey demanded the ball. It was his moment to shine, his biggest game and he could not trust the bullpen to get the job done. Every star pitcher would have done the same and demanded the ball under those circumstances. If not, fans would be complaining on the radio about the pitcher’s lack of “toughness” for giving up the ball. No one can blame Harvey for what he did that day. If they do, they’re only fooling themselves about the would-be hero of Gotham.
Terry Collins’ Perspective: Now that we understand why Matt Harvey demanded to Dan Warthen and Terry Collins that he wanted the ball to pitch the ninth inning, let’s consider why the skipper let Matt Harvey stay in the game. Once again, from a fan’s perspective it appears, Collins should have been the one to tell Harvey “no,” but, as the manager, he had good reason to let his ace finish what he started. First, there was the simple fact that Harvey had just easily completed the eighth inning on nine pitches, getting three routine fly ball outs. With that ease of an inning, Harvey could easily pitch the next one as well. His fastball was still at 96 mph, slider around 90 mph and curveball and changeup were still hitting 86 mph. There was no obvious reason to think he was slowing down. The other fact of the matter is that the Mets bullpen was tired. Familia had pitched the first four games and had been off. His ERA was only 1.80 but his strikeout rate was 5.4 compared to 9.9 during the regular season. Tyler Clippard also had not pitched well during the World Series and although Addison Reed had looked good prior to that game, it seemed unlikely that Collins would go to anyone but Familia. The biggest reason, though, is that worst of all, Collins could always bring on a reliever right away at the first sign of trouble, which he did anyway. Collins did what most old-school managers would have done: let their starting pitcher try to finish the game. Unfortunately for Collins and the Mets, it backfired.
If Harvey had been able to pitch the ninth and close the door on the Royals for a Game 5 win, Harvey could have cemented his name in Mets history. There was no way of knowing of what his career would become and the injuries and downfall that would occur. Any pitcher in Harvey’s situation would have done the same and all he can ever hope for is that he once again gets that situation. While unfortunately that won’t occur with the Mets, as a fan, I sincerely hope that Harvey finds a team where he can be successful and one day, get that moment to shine in October (or November) again.