Kansas City knew how it would end Sunday. How? Because they saw it play out the same way with opposite results last year.
Matt Harvey called out into the near distance with his stare. Called out to the void. The top two buttons of his blue jersey flapped open. In a laundry heap of white pinstriped pants and blue socks, he wore an exhausted but unsatisfied expression. The click-clack of his cleats that had launched him from the dugout and lit up the city just three minutes earlier turned to an ill-rehearsed violin scale of ineffable defeat.
The crowds had already come unmoored from their priceless seats. Mets deniers fleeing back into anonymity of the city, cramming on the subway trains eager to be enveloped by circumstance of the every day again. They have to live with the image of a ball that skittered under a glove in slow motion for the next three decades, or at least through the winter. For now, there is no immediate future. No silly goggles to don. No foamy spray fomenting some kind of obligatory dog pile. Just that sting of breathlessness suspended in the chilled-to-perfection air of an otherwise signature New York fall evening.
The big bank-sponsored arena in the big bank-sponsored town just moments before dangled on the end of the string attached to Harvey’s middle finger. He let it linger there too long and it didn’t return to his hand when he tugged.
To speak to Harvey, as his manager Terry Collins would in the eighth inning, was to speak to a man in a trance. The pitcher would be not denied an opportunity to finish what he started. A complete game shutout…and taking it back to the broadcloth and e’er thinning resolve of the Midwest. A likeness blasted out on baseball’s Rushmore would be his immediate fate. And then what? Would the somnolent Mets bats wake again? Would the youngest and best-coiffed pitchers in their respective league do what young and well-coiffed pitchers can do in the World Series? Perhaps.
Citi Field would have forgiven thusly Jeurys Familia’s ninth-inning mistake fastball in KC; looked past Murphy’s inability to get his glove on the ground—all the stranded runners and missed cut-off men—memories as distant as the crime-filled streets of the city’s adolescence.
A dark and demure righty built like a bouncer emerged from his own limited pitch count and was about to cast a shadow over a would-be celebration a year in the making for baseball’s best team. Koufax, Gibson, Morris, Schilling, Johnson, Bumgarner—Harvey climbed higher and higher each inning to join them. But there is a reason we recall only six names from more than 112 years of this post-season lore. And Harvey won’t occupy their same space. Not this year anyway.
It slipped away with an extra base hit in the ninth. Collins appeared from the basement to give his tenant notice. The gaze had been broken. The coffers run dry. Harvey wasn’t the same man, not at all. The guy that had retired the last half-dozen batters he faced and had just barely thrown more than 100 pitchers was over at the concessions begging for a brew to get him through the extra innings. He certainly wasn’t the same man the announcers were talking about in unrelenting superlatives that oddly defied the moment and the mortal in it.
“I let my heart get in the way of my gut,” Collins said.
And now Mets fans have until spring to unspool those meaty words. But if they all joined Harvey in a long look over at their foes immersed in a chorus, they’d have seen one thing apparent throughout the entire Royals’ season: disappointment fuels hope. And hope fuels true belief.
None of that can be manufactured in the moment no matter how hard you try to convince yourself.