By Jason Keidel
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To those with a fertile imagination, Tuesday is a cornucopia of New York baseball. It is a kaleidoscope of icons, prospects and promises, a screen-in-screen morality play framed in the Bronx and Atlanta. The Mets trot two pitchers to the mound who double as tarot cards for a beleaguered fan base, while the Yankees welcome a wounded hero back to the Bronx.
I’ve watched every Matt Harvey start, and it doesn’t take a jeweler’s eye or Stick Michael to fathom his greatness. He’s the perfect hybrid of talent and temerity, of force and finesse. You can’t brand him a “can’t-miss prospect” anymore because he’s already shredded up every lineup that he’s faced. But alas, he’s a Met and hence has been cursed with a Gibsonian luck. Harvey should be about 9-0, not 5-1.
You had to be alive and lucid in New York to understand how big Doc Gooden was in 1984. Gooden’s rising fastball was like something from Stan Lee’s easel, and he had a spine-cracking curveball that made hitters who were expecting the heat look like babies holding a broom for the first time.
And for the first time since the good doctor made his pyrotechnic house calls, the Mets have found his replacement in Harvey, who has been sensational — his microscopic ERA certainly warranting more than his record implies.
Then, after Harvey’s start, in the second game of the doubleheader the Mets will flaunt Zack Wheeler, who reportedly throws even harder than Harvey. It’s understandable if the jaded Mets fans will wait a few months before speed-dialing StubHub for tickets, as Wheeler is making his first start and he hardly lit Las Vegas on fire. But neither did Harvey before making MLB his personal PlayStation.
In a very real sense, the Mets are doing something that the Yanks haven’t done since, well, maybe ever. In the 35 years that I’ve loved the Yankees, only Ron Guidry has splashed on the scene as a bona fide ace and progenitor of the two-strike battle cry.
But Guidry had to share the stage with Reggie Jackson and co., and Guidry was a rather modest mammal in the Bronx Zoo, where egos were commensurate to their paychecks. Harvey has New York dangling from his divine right arm should he remain healthy.
Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes were supposed to be the next dynamic duo long before Harvey was branded the “Dark Knight of Gotham.” But the Yankees famously ruined Chamberlain by firing him after he landed on the mound like a meteor and became a flawless relief pitcher. Then there were the pitch counts and pseudo-psychiatry and “Joba Rules” and all that gibberish. It wasn’t so complicated with Hughes. He was simply and vastly overrated.
Mets fans can’t play the class warfare card on the world because they have virtually all the resources as their eternal tormentors across the river. Both teams have new ballparks, an ATM-type television network and about 10 million New Yorkers to seduce. It’s time to produce, and if not on the scoreboard then in the souls of their followers who have put up with way more than anyone should be forced to endure.
Though I’ve been a Yankees fan since 1977, the Twitter ghouls assert that I somehow hate them because I declare that Derek Jeter can’t play forever or suggest that Mariano Rivera was more instrumental than Jeter to winning their five rings together. And surely I’m a closet Mets fan for saying that a Harvey-type pitcher has eluded the Yankees since Guidry.
How’s them “Killer B” pitchers working out? Brian Cashman allegedly traded for an All-Star pitcher 18 months ago, yet during that time Chien Ming Wang has thrown more pitches than Michael Pineda. Even the immortal Rivera was essentially an accident, nearly traded several times before his fastball magically jumped a few mph.
Maybe it’s a product of their titanic wallet, voracious financial palate, karma or bad luck. But the Yankees simply don’t produce pitching studs. Andy Pettitte, who just turned 41, is the last great pitcher spawned by their supposedly fertile farm system. And, frankly, Harvey is already better than Pettitte ever was. (I know, it’s time to cancel the Twitter account.)
The Yankees are welcoming some old salt to the Stadium tonight. Don Mattingly is returning to the place — well, near the place — he charmed with his blue-collar grit and white-hot bat. But Mattingly can’t catch a break. Donnie Baseball is the only cursed Yankee of the 20th century. He’s the only legend who never won a World Series.
Even when he returned to the bench under Joe Torre, he couldn’t bag a ring when rings were falling like brown leaves from the fall skies. Then Mattingly inherited a playoff team from Torre in Los Angeles — which, of course, belongs to Brooklyn — and they purged by trading for ancient players with opulent contracts, far closer to their pastures than their primes. But it will be good to see Mattingly, even if he’s swathed in those blasphemous, blue colors.
Both New York teams are in transition, even if only the Mets have the record to prove it. Where’s the next homegrown Yankee great? Austin Romine? Ivan Nova? They will make it rain on Robinson Cano because they must, but it should surprise no one if the bulk of Cano’s best days are behind him. At least the Mets can flex their forefinger at a pitcher and say with certainty that he will be an All-Star for the next decade.
If you can look past the putrid present, the Mets don’t have a woeful future. The de facto shuttle they’re running between New York and Las Vegas could produce some bona fide baseball players, and perhaps Wally Backman will follow them to Flushing next year. If Wheeler can just get a fraction of Harvey’s traction, the sun could finally shine on Queens, where they could someday be Kings.
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