By Ernie Palladino
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Aside from the dough they bring in, Opening Days are way overrated.
We attach far too much importance to them; regard them as barometers to the season when, in reality, they amount to 1/162 of the season. Teams win Opening Days and finish dead last in their division. Teams lose them and wind up playing at the end of October.
It is no big deal, then, that Terry Collins tabbed old Bartolo Colon to open the Mets’ most promising season in recent years April 6 in Washington. In fact, it might just turn into a smart move.
It’s not exactly dumb to have Jacob deGrom start the home opener April 13 against the Phillies, either. The fans will love to have a first glimpse at the live, young arm trying to live up to last year’s NL Rookie of the Year status.
Matt Harvey? He takes a back seat for now. Or, more accurately, let’s call it third billing.
That seems to upset people, but it shouldn’t. As Aristotle (we think) once said, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If Harvey recovers the form that made him such a force before Tommy John surgery took away his 2014 season, and does it quickly, he will emerge again as the Mets’ undisputed ace. If the 97-mph fastball and nasty curve that produced a 1.26 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 14 1/3 spring innings so far indicate anything, it is that Harvey is well on his way to becoming the scourge of the league again. Harvey doesn’t have to open the season to achieve that. He’ll do just fine starting off nice and slow, away from the glow of the Opening Day spotlights. Far away, apparently, as Collins has him starting the third game in Washington, behind Colon and deGrom, and the second game at Citi Field.
It’s not that Harvey needs the shade. The term “under the radar” rarely applies to players like him, so taking the heat off someone who carries equal portions of mental and physical strength wasn’t the issue. He would have relished the honor of opening the season in front of packed houses. He’d probably give anything to be out there in place of the 41-year-old Colon.
But there is time for that. The people will come if the Mets turn themselves into contenders. And they will come to any of Harvey’ starts.
Opening Day? Colon can handle that. He’s started six previous openers, and now he’s being rewarded for a 15-13, 4.09 performance in his first 200-inning season since his Cy Young year of 2005.
So what that Collins threw the old man a bone? No harm done.
“It’s not a big deal. You’ve still got to pitch,” Collins said. “If we get Harvey his 30-some starts, I like our chances.”
And so what that he tabbed deGrom to open the Citi Field season? The Mets’ real strength lies in its young pitching, and deGrom counts as one of those. Jon Niese or Dillon Gee also would have sufficed in that spot. And it would be hard to believe any of them would have kicked had Collins selected Harvey, even though he didn’t pitch last year.
But he didn’t. He put Harvey down in the season-opening rotation.
First or third, Harvey will still win. And he’s still going to be regarded as the Mets’ No. 1 until he proves otherwise.
“He’s our ace,” Collins said. “We know it, he knows it. I told him he’s going to pitch a lot of big games this summer.”
If the Mets expect to be relevant this year, Harvey will pitch plenty of pressure games. Opening Day is not one of them. It’s other things — a beginning, a reward for a well-pitched previous season, a minor showcase.
Most of all, though, it’s one of 162.
Win that, lose the rest, and Opening Day won’t mean a darned thing.
Like the rest of the Mets, Harvey is hunting bigger laurels than ceremonial starts. Just making his first after a year away will be sweet enough for him.