Friday, September 1, 2017

A Different Harvey Descends On Houston

In 2013, Matt Harvey emerged as one of the great young pitchers in baseball -- a dynamic force who appeared on his way to becoming one of the most exciting players in Met history. Every one of his starts was celebrated by Met fans as "Harvey Day."  But after injuring his elbow, almost exactly four years ago, and undergoing Tommy John surgery, the promise of a great career seems to be fading.  Harvey returned in 2015, and helped the Mets make it to the World Series. But it has all gone downhill since his brilliant start in Game 5 ended ignominiously when he insisted on taking the mound in the ninth inning with the Mets leading 2-0.  He surrendered a walk and a double, leading to a devastating loss of the game and the series. Since then Harvey hasn't seemed right, physically or mentally.  He pitched poorly in 2016 before succumbing to season-ending surgery, and didn't look much better this year.  He was suspended for failing to show up at Citi Field, allegedly due to a hangover -- and then suffered another injury that necessitated surgery. 

Tomorrow Matt Harvey returns to the mound for the first time, hoping to begin his recovery and return to greatness.  He is pitching against the Astros, in Houston, the first game there since Hurricane Harvey devastated the region. 

The Houston Astros and the New York Mets are forever intertwined.  They began their baseball lives together in 1962.  At first the Mets were dreadful but entertaining, while the Astros were just dreadful.  Then the Mets were alternatively miraculous and dreadful, while the Astros stayed mostly dreadful, sometimes rising to mediocre.  Not that the Astros haven't had some excellent seasons.  In 1986, the Mets barely beat them in an incredibly exciting and intense playoff series. They made it to the World Series in 2005, only to be swept by the White Sox in what might be the most forgettable World Series ever.  This year, as it turns out, is their greatest season, with the best record in the American League (they switched leagues in 2013).  And while the Mets are back to being dreadful, the Astros are poised to do something special for their beleaguered city. 

Baseball is has remarkable reparative qualities.  It is truly the National Pastime and has been an essential palliative when the country has faced trouble and tragedy.  FDR famously rejected the suggestion that the 1942 baseball season should be cancelled in deference to the Second World War: "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."  In 1968, the Detroit Tigers' World Series victory was profoundly moving for a city teeming in social unrest (a year earlier, their great slugger Willie Horton attempted to quell the riots in his Tiger uniform).  There was Mike Piazza's dramatic home run at Shea Stadium in the first game in New York after 9/11, and David Ortiz's powerful speech after the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Tomorrow in Houston.


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