Well, That’s A Win

If you turned on today’s game after the third inning, and didn’t bother to check the score, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was a tight game in the making.  The Giants’ bullpen was shutting our once vaunted offense down, and Steven Matz and a combination of relievers was doing the same to San Francisco.

“Damn,” you may have thought, “where’s our offense gone?”

But you would have been vindicated when we pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh, after allowing a run on a homer from Angel Pagan.  The game would still have been tied, but at least you would have seen some scoring.

Then, perhaps, you would have looked at the scoreboard, and noticed what had happened.

Because if you’d turned the game on in the third inning, here’s what you would have seen:

Walk, walk, double, single, walk, double, double, walk, (strikeout), single, single, single, grand slam.

That’s where our offense had gone: we’d left it all in the third inning.

Did we know we were watching history unfold?  We may have had an inkling, but really, it happened too quickly to be aware of.  Cespedes came to bat with the potential eleventh run, the historic run, if you will, on first.  Before we could even think of the fact that an extra base hit could match the Mets highest-scoring inning of all time, Cespedes did one better.

Twelve runs in an inning.  Unmatched since 1962, and not often matched in the history of baseball altogether.  Unmatched by the bashing lineup of 2006, the threatening lineup of 1986, or even the deep, versatile lineup of 2000.  Unmatched by any Mets lineup ever.

Does it mean anything?  Very little, besides the fact that tonight, we became, by watching, part of Mets history.

What could possibly mean more?

And what could mean more, by the way, than the contents of the 12 run inning itself?  Six RBIs for Cespedes, another Mets single-inning record.  Two more absolute ropes off the bat of Conforto — and another in the eighth that could have gone for a hit as well.  A deep double for Neil Walker.  Cabrera continuing to hit.  Duda getting on base.  Wright singling, then hitting the ball hard again later in the game, and also walking twice.

Every win seems sweeter than the last, and yet each win is completely different than the last.  Maybe what makes things that way is simply the fact that each win is one win more than the last.  And the seventh win is greater than the sixth, as the sixth was greater than the fifth, and as the eighth will be greater than the seventh.

Even with the twelve runs in the third, we wouldn’t have gotten to the seventh — win, that is, although I suppose the same applies to the inning — without the six scoreless innings delivered by Steven Matz, who, since allowing seven runs in his first start, has an E.R.A. below 1.00.  His E.R.A. is down from 37.20 to 3.86 — not bad for four starts — and his record is up to 3-1 — not bad for April.  Where do we find these pitchers?  It doesn’t even seem normal.

Gary told Matz’s origin story on the broadcast today, when the game got too dull to fill all the time SNY had.  He was a first baseman, who became a pitcher seemingly by accident, looking to get noticed by D3 and D2 scouts.  They clocked him in the high eighties.  A few weeks later, at a national showcase, he was clocked in the low nineties.

And based on where he is right now, he’s been improving since then.

Sure he’s been through Tommy John surgery.  Sure he spent six years in the minors after being drafted.  None of that changes the fact that he’s now the second or third or fourth ace in a rotation chock full of ‘em, and since his first start, has pitched more than commensurate to the role.

This isn’t generation K.  It’s much better.

I mean, look at it — Harvey’s back looking strong, Matz went today and went about as well as can be, deGrom goes tomorrow, and looks to be dealing as well, and then it’s Thor.

At this point, should twelve-run wins really surprise us?

Sure, our opponent was a Giants team that’s playing like they don’t know it’s an even year, with a pitcher on the mound whose former Cy Young stuff seems to have deserted him.  But that’s the point.  This was a team that we absolutely should have beaten — a team that we should have destroyed, knocked down, and left in the dust.  We’re so far ahead of this team that we’ve almost lapped around behind them.

So what did we do?  We went out and beat them by twelve runs.

Doing what we’re supposed to do — it’s a luxury we haven’t often had, and it’s precisely what makes me like the prospects of this season so much.  Right now, none of our pitchers have their absolute best stuff — but eventually they will.  Maybe, I’ll posit the possibility, right when the offense cools down, and we start winning games 3-1 instead of 13-1.  Doing, in short, exactly what we’re supposed to do.

We’ve got deGrom tomorrow; he was our ace in 2014 and 2015.  We’ve got Thor Sunday; our ace — or at least, perhaps the best among many — this season, so far.  Then Harvey on Monday, our ace in 2013.  Not to mention Colón, an ace in various uniforms since 1993.

Gary touched on it during the broadcast — “They just don’t let up,” he said, referring to our pitching.  It’s true; we don’t.  The Giants have Madison Bumgarner; we’ve got four of him.

Who’s got the advantage there?  Coming off a 13-1 win, it shouldn’t be all that hard to tell.

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The Mostly-Armored Knight

I’ve got to be honest here, and right off the bat it seems strange, seeing as we’re in the midst of a six-game win streak and two consecutive series sweeps, but I still can’t quite get used to how good this team is.

When Matt Harvey gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, and then a hard and rather humiliating line drive to the second, I thought we were done.  I just didn’t think it was the kind of game that we could come back and win, especially seeing as we’d already won five in a row.

I’m glad to be proven wrong whenever the proof involved a Mets victory, but to be so systematically, conclusively proven wrong in my brief assessment that the Mets weren’t as good as I’d thought they were is the nicest proof of all.

And what better day to be proven wrong then Harvey Day?

The Dark Knight is working his way back — successfully so, as we saw tonight.  Harvey came out throwing 96 and 97, and after the home run to the first batter he faced, allowed only one other run, on a soft line drive that somehow got over Lucas Duda’s head, despite barely leaving the infield grass.  He pitched into trouble multiple times, and all but the one, pitched out of it as well.

It’s hard to tell exactly where Harvey is.  He still looks a little bit off; then again, not even the best pitchers have their best stuff every time out.  At the pace he’s been improving, he’ll be at his best in another start or two, augmenting Matz, deGrom, and Thor, all at their best, and Familia, who yesterday looked his best as well.

And the best part is, we’re good enough to win even when our guys are far below their best.  So a four game stretch of the best we have to offer is downright scary.

Watching Harvey strike out the last man he faced, I couldn’t help it; I pumped my fist and yelled out loud, and then got up to make sure none of my neighbors were offended by profanity.  They weren’t.  I like to think they were as enraptured by Harvey’s resurgent performance as I was: more likely, they didn’t care much either way.  But that didn’t change the simple facts of the game, and the strikeout: Harvey was, and is, charging back, and the early-season difficulties that plagued him in the opening weeks of the season are now almost invisible, if not gone completely.

On the offensive side, it was a relatively mundane night; in fact, we had only five hits.  But we put the runs on the board, just like we’ve been doing and will continue to do.  Two unearned in the first on a dropped fly ball and an RBI single (a Royals-type “relentless contact” narrative briefly threatened to sneak into my head, but I beat it back).  Another run several innings later, on Neil Walker’s 48th home run, in spirit if not by any numerical reality.

My description of the offense as “relatively mundane” does not, of course, account for Walker, who, almost as if he’s having Daniel Murphy’s daily exploits shoved in his face just like the rest of the Mets online community, has made us forget about Murph real fast.  Well, perhaps not forget, as it’s hard to replace what Murph did — more accurately, we’ve moved on.  It’s hard not to, when you’ve got a second baseman who bats .300 with nine home runs in his first month; stretches like that tend to make you forget the guy who used to be there.

And then, of course, Michael Conforto, of whom any praise will sound like mere echoes of Keith Hernandez’s voice from the SNY booth, but bears repeating anyway.  Mike can hit — that much shouldn’t even need be said.  It’s the way he hits it that makes it that much better.  Without a hit on the day, Conforto came to the plate with two on and two out, and lined a pitch off the outside corner into left field and up the gap.  I’ve seen his swing enough, at this point, to put aside my reservations that he would regress, or hit a sophomore slump, or not play well in any way.  I won’t hold back on Conforto at the plate: his swing is melodious, mellifluous, harmonic and resonant, frictionless and rhythmic, a picture of offensive perfection embodied.

Will he keep it up?  Will he continue batting .330, or whatever he’s at?  It’s not a rhetorical question, though it may seem to be.  At this point, the answer may well be yes.

In the later stages of today’s game, we came to the bullpen, diminished after multiple nights of work.  “The bridge to Familia,” it was called during the offseason, usually in some negative context, as in, “The one area that needs work is that bridge from the starters to Familia.”

Well our bridge people can be shown to the door, because the middle of the bridge, not to mention both anchors, which were taken as sure things, has been substantially more than fine.  We came into the day with a 2.67 bullpen E.R.A. — and it only went down.  Robles.  Henderson.  Reed.  Bastardo.  Blevins, Verrett, and finally, of course, Familia.

They all look fine.  Better; great.  Commanding, controlling, taking over the game.  We got nine straight outs from the bullpen tonight without using Familia, and without going to either lefty specialist.  Just three guys.  7th, 8th, 9th.  1-2-3, three times.  Bullpen simplicity at its best.

And now we’ve got an off day, and then we go up against the Giants, who, quite frankly, are playing as if they haven’t realized it’s an even year.  They’re okay; we’re better.  We’ve got a strong chance at a series win, and a decent one at another sweep.

And you know why?  Because on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we’ve got three aces going.  It seemed like we just had our aces going the other day, or week — because we did, and now it’s their turn again.

Don’t you love this team?

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We’re Better Than That

Just when you’ve said this is a fun team, they come back to get you.  Our luck can’t last forever, but did it have to run out tonight?  Let’s get a few more wins first, maybe go once more through the four aces.  Four wins is nice – but five would have been a lot nicer.

That’s what I was thinking.  And then Yoenis Cespedes, in a moment that, for a game on April 26th, was oddly reminiscent of Kirk Gibson, sent a pitch over the left field wall, and we were tied.

David Wright is my guy, but he’s not as good as he used to be.  He’s been striking out a ton lately; I hope he’ll turn it around, but maybe he’s just past that point.

That’s what I was thinking.  And then Wright put a ball into the outfield on 0-2 and we took the lead.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there are typical Mets teams, that lose this kind of game.  Then there are good Mets teams, that put up a fight and occasionally pull out a win.

And then there’s us.

Really; I didn’t think we were going to win today.  The game seemed lost.  We weren’t hitting, Bartolo hadn’t been quite at his best, and we’d stranded a few runners who otherwise would have had us right in the game.

But I’d forgotten that we were coming off a World Series appearance, and were hungry for more.  And that hunger, clearly, is still present and downright dangerous.

Honestly — this just isn’t your average team.  I say that with absolute confidence, and I’d say it whether or not I needed something new to write about, or was looking for something better to believe in, or just couldn’t take it any more.  It’s not.  We’re just better.

How much can you say?  It’s all one variation or another on, “we’re just too damn good.”  We take a series from the Indians.  And then one from the Phillies.  And then one from the Braves.  And now, one from the Reds, with a quite-possibly-resurgent Matt Harvey on the mound tomorrow looking for the sweep.

And then Matz.

And then deGrom.

And then Thor.

Now do you see where I’m going?

I got into a small twitter argument yesterday, over whether we’d be better off had we signed Howie Kendrick instead of trading for Neil Walker.  Walker had just won the game for the Mets with a two-run homer in the eighth.

I think Walker was the right move; Kendrick is older, with less power.  But that’s not the point.

The point is that, for the first time in a long time, we’re arguing over legitimate ballplayers.  This isn’t Brad Emaus versus Chin Lung Hu, or Sean Marcum versus Jeremy Hefner.  The choice was between two second basemen, both almost certainly top five in the league.

When’s the last time we could say that?

Walker didn’t even have a hit tonight.  Regardless, we were fine.

Again, when’s the last time we could say that?

I’m starting to come ‘round to the idea that this team is a damn good one, not the type that’s done when we’re down a few runs, not the type that can’t spring a rally on you in a second then shut your offense down in another. Addison Reed in the eighth.  Familia in the ninth.

We didn’t score any more runs for them.  It wasn’t a problem.  Ballgame over.

A win in the books, another series win secured, and a chance to go for the sweep tomorrow.  Hell, I’ll take that any day of the week.

And, as a postscript, I need to mention Michael Conforto, who’s hitting something like .400 with three home runs since moving to the three hole, and whose two hits including a double today were…well, just great.

“He’s gotta be the most exciting hitter this franchise has developed since David Wright,” one of our three hall-of-fame broadcasters said last year.  I’m starting to believe them.

Seriously, who gave us this team?  What were they, looking for a favor?

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Thorly You’re Not Theriouth

After the first three pitches of the game, I thought we had it in the bag.  Although we would go on to win, I was wrong.

But boy, it’s nice to have that thought.

You saw the first three pitches of the game, right?

Fastball, fastball, fastball.

99, 98, 99, or something like that.

Strike, strike, strike.

Ring him up.

Today is notable, in a sense, for demonstrating one thing: with Thor on the mound, we’re pretty well set.  He had his worst stuff of the year tonight, and demonstrated it by coming within one out of a 7 inning, one run performance.  And would have left with the win, if not for the sudden wildness of Antonio Bastardo.

How low can Thor go?  Well, tonight seemed to be about it, and he looked pretty damn good nonetheless.

And boy, isn’t this team fun to watch?  Conforto…Duda…Walker…where will the hits come from next?  Don’t ask, because I don’t know, but know that whatever the source of our ultimate offense, it’ll be explosive, quick, and damn fun.

First off, Conforto, because as we knew coming in, the BABIP gods owed him a few.  They gave him one of his three hits, to add to a walk: the others were solid, contact hits.  He’s got a few more coming his way, and, considering the hits he’s going to get anyway, what with the swing he’s got, that should strike fear into the hearts of opponents — again, if he doesn’t already.

And Duda…what more is there to say?  To quote the epithet making the rounds on #MetsTwitter, Lucas Duda Is Good.  That’s all there is to say, because that’s really it: he’s a professional hitter batting cleanup on a strong offensive team, and not missing a beat.  He hits, he fields, hell, he even runs.

Remember Ken Davidoff’s column, wherein he announced to the world that Mets fans everywhere had an inexplicable distaste for Lucas Duda?  Does anyone see that anywhere?  Me, I can’t make head or tail of it.

And then there’s Neil Walker, who’s on a mission to make us forget about Daniel Murphy and so far, has done an admirable job.  With his home run tonight, he’s got eight on the year, with a .290 batting average and a slugging percentage somewhere absurd.  Will he keep it up?  No, let’s not kid.  But will he be a solid player on both sides of the ball, hitting for power and average and maybe even a little bit better than we thought from the right side?  Absolutely he will.  You just have to look.

And then Familia comes in for the save, nails it down, and just like that, another win is right there in the books.

Do you see what we’ve done here?  We’ve moved through our four aces.  None had their best stuff; next time around, one or more very well might.  And with the aces going at less than full speed, we pulled out four wins in four games.

That’s why this team is so great: every day of the week, we’ve got a good shot at winning, no matter the opponent, no matter our lineup, no matter whatever.  It’s an occupational side effect of having four aces and a quality lineup: you win more than you lose.  And so far, as our 11-7 record, up from 2-5, will indicate, we’ve seen our share of that particular phenomenon.

Now it’s time for the gap day: it’s Colón, it’s the Reds, and we’ve still got every chance in the world to get another win, wrap up the series, and go for the sweep Wednesday with a rapidly improving Harvey on the mound.  And then Matz.  And then deGrom.  And then Thor.  Again.

See where I’m going with this?  Boy, I love this team.

So — we’re winning and winning, and we know the Nationals won’t keep it up, because they’re the Nationals.  So, all in all, I like where we are.

What’s not to like?  We’ve got a team, and we’re beating up everyone.  Hell, let’s get to it.

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Sweetness In Atlanta

What was Jeurys Familia doing in trouble again?  And more importantly, how would he get out of it?

Familia, it seems, hasn’t quite hit his groove yet.  His pitches are there, for the most part, but they’re all over.  He’s giving up too many hits, and his E.R.A. is higher than we’d like.

Fortunately, even after an adventure of a ninth inning today that included throws to the wrong bases, an attempted barehand that went wrong, and a single to Jeff Francoeur, his save percentage is as high as it possibly can be.  And one game at a time, that’s all that really matters.

When Familia got Daniel Castro to ground to Walker to end it, I sank back in my seat, relieved beyond measure.  This had been a game we were supposed to win.  For the longest time, it had appeared that we would do so easily.

“It’s a lot closer than it seems,” Keith had warned in the eighth inning.  So secure in my newfound confidence in our guys, based in part on the successes of what is now a 7-2 road trip, I hadn’t taken him seriously enough.  But as Kelly Johnson reached to start the ninth, then inexplicably moved to second on a slow ground ball to Asdrubal, I wasn’t sure.

Familia had his share of trouble last year as well: he blew five saves, and in several others, relied on clutch double plays to extricate himself from what would otherwise have turned into extremely thorny situations.  All closers get into trouble, I suppose, but you’d think that we’d get a break from that, every once in a while.  You’d think, with a guy like Familia, who may already be one of the best relievers in Mets history, we’d have ourselves a carefree ninth inning every once in a while.

But really, what would be the point of that?  A win isn’t half as sweet if the possibility of a loss hasn’t been introduced.  When Familia got the last out, I pumped my fist and lay back, flooding with happiness as we, with the win, moved another game above .500, and finished out a sweep of the Braves, who, in their final year at Turner Field, seem determined to reverse all the undeserved luck they’ve received in their 20 years playing there.  Last night, when Robles or Bastardo or whoever it was — you see, I don’t even remember — got the last out, I barely noticed.  I was listening in one ear as I scrolled through the internet, looking for a Jerry Lee Lewis t-shirt.

Now tell me, which win is sweeter?

Statistically, of course, there’s no question to be asked; a win is a win, and that’s that.  But the statistics aren’t all that matters — they never are.  We pulled out a win today, despite not hitting our best and missing out on some opportunities.  We managed to hang on to a victory we really didn’t deserve, over a team that deserved it even less.

Win sweetness — I don’t know that we’ve got the stats to measure that.  But for most of us, myself included, it’s the reason we watch in the first place.

It’s not about the win itself, but what led there — the narrative of the win, if you will.  It’s about Jacob deGrom returning from the tumultuous birth and subsequent complications of his son and pitching beautifully, moving his record to 2-0, 1.54.  It’s about Michael Conforto, after hitting the ball hard all weekend and not getting the hits to show for it, driving a ball over Nick Markakis’ head for a ground rule double in the sixth, which could have been, depending on how exactly you calculate this almost entirely useless statistic, the game-winning RBI.

And even more, it’s about beating the loss-straddled, rebuild-mired, stadium-hopping, offense-lacking, bullpen-wanting, series-losing, godforsaken Atlanta Braves.

First, deGrom — perfection wasn’t expected, in his first start in two weeks, but what we got was pretty damn good by itself.  As in game five of the NLDS, he didn’t have his best stuff.  And just as he did then, he persevered.  Five and two thirds innings, which should have been six but for a squibber up the third base line that Brooks Robinson, or, indeed, David Wright couldn’t have done anything with.

For deGrom, the perfection will come — if not in terms of 27 up and 27 down, at least in terms of throwing his pitches just the way he wants them.  He’s coming off a World Series appearance, an abbreviated Spring Training, and a sudden bout of time off to deal with a baby and a lat pull.  The velocity will show up, as will the location, and the snap on the curveball, and all the things we love about, to channel Keith Hernandez, young Mr. deGrom.  But in the meantime, he looked pretty good anyway.

Remember the four aces we all talked up?  Well, we’ve been through three of them, and we’re out with three wins, even though quite frankly, none of the three had their absolute best stuff.  They’ll all be better.  Our opponents probably won’t.  We’ve got one ace to go — and then Bartolo, and then the four aces get right back at it.

So now, it’s on back to Queens, where gamblers are waiting for their fourth ace and weather forecasters have predicted a strong chance of lightning.  That’s right — it’s Thorsday on a Monday, and against a Reds team that we last saw leaving the field as we celebrated a division title, I can’t help but like our chances.

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Some Kind Of Improvement

It’s funny; despite all we heard about how great our pitching staff would be, all we’re looking for is improvement.

We saw it with Matt Harvey last night.  Harvey pitched well enough if not overpoweringly, but it was an improvement — he looked, at least for brief stretches, like himself.  That’s all we need: Harvey as himself.  So far, he hasn’t been.  Briefly, he was.  That’s an improvement.

And then, today, Steven Matz lowered his E.R.A. to 5.40.  And for those of you just joining us, that can’t seem like the best of signs.  But then you hear that it’s on its way down from 37.20, and figures to continue sinking for the foreseeable future.

And you think, “that’s an improvement.”

I can’t help being reminded of a night, a few years ago, when Eric Young Jr. went three for four, and in doing so, raised his batting average from putrid to a few points higher.

“Eric Young Jr. with the quintessentially Metsian night,” I tweeted.  “Headline: ‘Young went 3-4, raising his batting average to .233…’”

That night, for young, was the epitome of the best of the worst of the Mets: okay players on bad teams doing good things and being benevolently mocked and/or lauded for it.  Eric Young Jr. was a quintessential Met, as were Jae Seo, Sean Marcum, LaTroy Hawkins, and Juan Centeno (for, of course, throwing out Billy Hamilton, which, if you’re the kind of Mets fan who knows how to tell a quintessential Met from any other, you remember like it was yesterday).

Steven Matz is no quintessential Met.  Far from it.  He’s just too good.

Even from the beginning, if you were watching as Matz took the mound against the Braves, you knew two things.

1: Matz didn’t have his best stuff, but he was close to it.

2: The Braves had no chance.

Sure, we’re Mets fans, so we assume that something will go wrong, and that Freddie Freeman will burst out of his slump and Daniel Castro was waiting until today to prove that he’s better than Mike Trout, and Jhoulys Chacin will pick today to throw like Tom Seaver.

But come on.  They’re a rebuilding team, caught in the midst of an offensive slump, having already given up on the season and looking forward to 2017 in a new ballpark.  Essentially, removing the new ballpark from the equation, they’re the Mets of 2013 — on a day that Matt Harvey isn’t on the mound.

They’re facing off against the 2016 Mets, a young, loaded team ready to beat up on whoever we’ve got to.  Our offense is better — far, far, far better.  And our pitching — it’s not a question.  No debate, not even a serious argument from the other side.

They were the Mets of 2013, and their Matt Harvey, if they have one, was not on the mound.  We’re the 2016 Mets, and we didn’t need Matt, because he pitched yesterday.

Instead, we’ll throw someone else at you.  Someone who may well be better.

Even with his location failing at times, his pitches creeping up with his pitch count, Matz was never really in trouble, even when conventional baseball knowledge said that he was most definitely in trouble.  He allowed a run in the third, then ended the threat.  He came out after allowing another run in the seventh, and Robles ended the threat.

It was Steven Matz against a bad lineup.  It didn’t matter how off he was, or whether he was missing slightly up.  He would win.

It’s not exactly an analysis of stunning brilliance, considering the game’s ended and we all know what happened, but it has interesting, and, frankly, exhilarating consequences as we move forward and cycle through aces.  DeGrom goes tomorrow: he’s got a season and a half under his belt as an ace already.  After deGrom, it’s Thor — we all know what he can do.

And then, after Colón goes out and continues defying the laws of nature, it’s Harvey again, and if any of the improvement I’m pretty certain I saw has continued, he’ll be better than last time.  And then the cycle starts again, Matz and deGrom and Thor, a trio that can go up against whatever rock and roll trio you’re partial to, and come out on top every time.

Seriously, think about that: we’ve got a season ahead of us wherein, three out of every five games, we’ll be pretty confident in winning.  If Harvey finds himself, and I hope I’m not being too optimistic when I say that I think he will, it’ll be four out of every five.  That’s not to even mention Colón’s continued success, or Wheeler’s potential return.

We talked all winter about how great our pitching staff would be, but we never quite got to what that really meant.  And now, we’re seeing it.  Simply put, we’re seeing exactly what a great pitching staff means.

A great pitching staff means that three or four games out of every five are ours for the taking, ours to lose and our opponents to win.  And with our pitching, and the offense we’ve built to back it, we it doesn’t seem like we’ll be giving games up all that often.

But don’t take my word for it; by all means, test the theory for yourself.  DeGrom tomorrow.  Thor Monday.  See a pattern yet?

I do, and it’s a good one.

deGrom back, Harvey improving, Matz scintillating, Thor dominating.  That’s four out of every five games.

Need I say more?

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Flashes of Harvey Day

Matt Harvey hadn’t been perfect, he knew.  But he still had the stuff to get one more out.

It was A.J. Pierzinski he had to get.  A.J. Freakin’ Pierzinski, who’s been in the league almost twenty years and has been insufferable every one of them.  Harvey would get him, I was sure.

Then, in the few seconds it took me to remember that Harvey, for the moment, was far removed from his dominant 2013 form, Pierzinski dumped a single into center.  And things continued to break wrong for Matt Harvey.

Then Cespedes gunned down Nick Markakis (#VoteMarkakis) at the plate.  And for the first time this season, for Matt Harvey, something fell right.

***

It’s hard to know how to feel about Harvey’s satisfactory, yet obviously laborious, outing.  He didn’t have his best stuff; that much was clear.  His velocity was slightly improved, sitting near 94 and touching 96, but still not where it was a year ago.  The command was off as well — as Keith couldn’t help but note roughly every pitch, too many pitches were up.

But it was an improvement, and while we didn’t expect to be looking for nothing more than an improvement from Matt Harvey four starts into the year, I’ll certainly take it.

For brief stretches, in the third and fourth inning, it looked like maybe, just maybe, Harvey had found himself.  He looked more confident on the mound, his posture relaxed, naturally intimidating from the windup.  His fastball briefly took on the effortless look it had about it back in early 2013, and even last year.  His slider started snapping in.  He was painting the black.

It didn’t last: Harvey ran out of gas in the fifth, and managed to get through his five with only the two runs allowed.  But that doesn’t mean the middle innings didn’t happen.

“I thought that was a much better inning for him,” Keith said after the fourth.  It was; he’d given up a few baserunners, but he’d also looked like the Harvey of old.  The Harvey of old gave up baserunners now and then too — the difference was, we were comfortable in our convictions that he wouldn’t let them score.

The Harvey of old wasn’t fully back — in the lack of command and the sinking velocity as the game wore on, that much was obvious.  But I saw flashes of him — flashes clear enough to tell me that old Harvey, good Harvey, dominant Harvey, may have finished his absence, and may now be clawing his way back.

***

It was a big question, as the offseason went on, whether Curtis Granderson could repeat his stellar 2015 season at age 35.

I, for one, was sure he could: 35, after all, isn’t so much older than 34, and as we learned from Moneyball, the ability to walk is one of the few baseball skills that doesn’t disappear with age.  Grandy’s OBP was .364 last year.  It was .299 coming into today’s game.  After today, it’s .319.

What’s more, he’s no stranger to bad Aprils.  Last year, his April OBP was .333.  But we know what we see, and Granderson, with his two home runs today, is swinging as well as he’s ever been, and hasn’t lost one ounce of the plate discipline that led to his 91 walks last year.

Behind Granderson, Wright, Cespedes, and Asdrubal Cabrera, we’ve got a lineup full of neophytes, or, rather, players who seem like neophytes because of how long Grandy and the captain have been around.  The young guys will hit.  D’Arnaud is off to a slow start: that will change.  Duda’s walks and home runs will come, and Walker might just keep doing what he’s doing.  Conforto, we know, will become a star just as soon as his line drives stop finding fielders’ gloves and start finding the outfield grass.

For the longest time, our lineup was downright laughable.  We shook off all concerns.  “We’re going to build around pitching,” we insisted, not admitting to ourselves the obvious, that even teams with the pitching that we’ve got now need some kind of lineup to remain functional.

As we all remember, we had the pitching but not the lineup for the first half of 2015, and we learned the truth the hard way; being great on one side of the ball isn’t enough to cancel out being incompetent on the other.  The day Eric Campbell and John Mayberry Jr. filled out the middle of our order, we realized the inevitable: we needed offense.

We had ten hits today.  Wednesday, we had 14.  Tuesday, 12.  Monday, ten more.  Sunday, nine.  Since being 2-5, we’re 6-2, and in the process of executing the lightning-quick turnaround, our offense started hitting.

We’ve got the offense we always knew we needed, and we’ve got the pitching.  Even today, when our pitching was absolutely ordinary, our offense carried us to victory.

Back in 2013, when we had grand plans to build a pitching staff so good that our offense didn’t matter, who expected that we’d be saying that?

***

It’s even more satisfying, in a way, because we pulled out the win despite all that went wrong.

Conforto should have had five hits; he had one.  On any other day, our run totals would have climbed.

Pierzinski’s pop-up to center in the second should never have fallen in.  Today, it did.  On any other day, that’s one hit fewer for the opposition, and one more out for our pitching.  The same goes for the double play ball bobbled by the so-far absolutely surehanded Walker: tomorrow, that’s an out.

We had some things fall our way as well: Cespedes’ throw to nail Markakis (#VoteMarkakis) was a notable example, as were a few hard-hit balls that our fielders handled.  But the point is: we won because, and only because, we played better.  There were no two ways about it; it was a good, old-fashioned baseball win.

You know what I call good, old-fashioned baseball?  We’ve got Matz tomorrow, and then deGrom, and then Thor.

Those three pitchers’ E.R.A. in their last starts?  0.90, if my math is right.  And that’s a whole lot of fire to throw at the Braves, whose offense doesn’t look built to stand up to Jamie Moyer, let alone our three flamethrowers.

We got through Harvey — although none of us ever thought we’d say this, he was the question mark of the group — and now, our rotation goes to work, just like we dreamed it would over the offseason, when we imagined our pitching staff working out perfectly.  Matz, deGrom, Thor.  Three guys with shutout stuff.  Three guys taking on the Braves.

For fear of superstitious recourse, we don’t like to say this.  But the Braves have got no chance.

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