By Ernie Palladino
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No wonder Matt Harvey was out after six innings yesterday in Philadelphia. He must have looked at the scoreboard, saw that 6-0 lead, and darned near passed out.
It's not often a Mets pitcher gets that kind of margin to work with. And history tells us that some hurlers with far more experience and track record than the 7-1 right-hander don't necessarily work flawlessly when staked to such plush cushions.
They're not Harvey, however. He kept his two-hit, shutout pitching intact through his work day, which whether he liked it or not ended after he struck out Michael Young for his sixth strikeout, right after he got Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley on weak groundouts.
To Terry Collins' credit, he wasn't tempted Sunday to let Harvey go to any extraordinary lengths, especially as the skies above Citizens Bank Ballpark clouded up and eventually caused the day's second rain delay in the seventh. Good enough that Harvey, now proud owner of a 2.05 ERA, provided yet another quality start for a team that wasted a valiant, ninth-inning comeback Saturday.
Instead, Harvey got to sit and enjoy watching his teammates tack up two more runs to secure the 8-0 win.
Best thing about it? Not Harvey's pitching, but his hitting. He nearly took John Lannan yard in the fifth. But his ringing double off the wall brought home Juan Lagares and effectively capitalized on the gift second base umpire D.J. Reyburn bestowed when he deemed Ben Revere dropped Lagares' fly during the transfer from glove to throwing hand.
At any rate, Lagares wound up at third on the error, and Harvey's second double of the season drove him in. That marked his second RBI of the season, and his 1-for-3 raised his batting average to .139. Another couple of hits and he's in Doc Gooden territory, and that's not bad. Gooden was one of the National League's better-hitting pitchers for a long time, as his 12-year average of .197 with seven homers and 65 RBI indicates. It's almost a shame Harvey's shot to opposite right-center fell short. A homer would have triggered some mighty frothy discussions. As it is, he scored a batter later on Eric Young's double.
Keep in mind that Harvey might have had another hit in the sixth on a hot comebacker Phillies reliever Joe Savery knocked down more in self defense than skill.
He's putting wood on the ball. Harvey has reached the point where the pitching can almost be taken for granted. The Mets know that, unlike their other healthy pitchers, that Harvey will provide quality once he takes the mound. That's something they couldn't rely on even Jon Niese to do in the starts before he went on the DL.
Harvey now becomes a major story when he helps win a game with his bat, instances that come more frequently now, or when he twirls the second no-hitter in franchise history. Considering he's flirted with that lovely lady three times already, Harvey could seal the deal in the not-so-distant future. Maybe even this year.
The total effect has been impressive. Despite the loss Saturday, the Mets' offense put up 15 runs the last two games, with the pitcher helping out Sunday. That's not to say these Mets are out of the woods, or even have the clearing in sight. As they wait to see how Niese's partially torn labrum reacts and whether Lucas Duda's intercostal strain will sideline him for a month or more, they still can only rely on Harvey for solid pitching. The rest is pot luck.
Same with the offense, although David Wright has looked like an All-Star third baseman lately. Whether it was Harvey's aura that carried over to him Sunday or just the continuation of a 9-for-19 (.474), three-homer, five-RBI hot streak over the last four games, he fell a single shy of hitting for the cycle. Four extra base hits -- two doubles, a triple, and a homer -- with two RBI and two runs scored wasn't a bad day at all.
Harvey pitching. Harvey hitting. The offense producing runs.
Enjoy it. Nothing is a given with these Mets, aside from the almost-sure thing in the 24-year-old flamethrower. He's worth the lofty price of admission all by himself.
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