By Ernie Palladino
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Matt Harvey has his chance now.
Permission slip from Scott Boras in hand, the Mets’ Dark Knight goes into Monday’s NLDS Game 3 start with a full plate. What appeared to be enough of a snack a week ago — just the rehab of his image as well as a potential series clincher — has turned into a three-course meal.
And now, the Mets sorely need their problem child to come through — big time — because so much more lies at stake. Exorcising the demons — yeah, that’s still on the table. But it’s also on Harvey to keep the Mets out of an elimination scenario. And perhaps to serve up a little retribution for Chase Utley, the new/old villain whose latest crime against the Mets involved the simultaneous bust up of a double play and Ruben Tejada’s right leg.
This is going to be quite the high-wire act for Harvey. Balance the last two factors properly, and all those opinions about innings limits and missed practices vanish in a second. All the nonsense of late nights and gloomy futures gets forgiven, and Harvey again assumes his mantle of The Dark Knight.
Fall off, though, and the Mets get to deal once again with the ever-dangerous Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Let Utley’s dirty slide go unavenged, and another card falls from the shaky house of respect inside the clubhouse.
The Mets need The Dark Knight to rise.
He must give them innings — maybe even go one better than the seven that Jacob deGrom went in his 121-pitch, 13-strikeout masterpiece Friday — so Terry Collins can skip over a suspect middle-innings bullpen and go straight to Jeurys Familia. And if that takes 290 pitches to get it done, well, the Grand Poobah agent — Boras — will just have to swallow hard and hope his future cash cow’s Tommy John elbow doesn’t suffer in a future that matters nothing to nobody at this crossroads moment.
Harvey must be vicious and arrogant and, yes, ticked off. Just striking out a bunch of Dodgers somehow won’t fulfill the emotional contract that comes with being a teammate. He sat in the same dugout Saturday as the other guys, seeing what they saw in the disastrous seventh.
There was Utley sliding late, barely within reach of second, hitting the half-spun Tejada with something that looked to Michael Cuddyer more like a tackle than a slide.
Somehow, he needs to become the singular embodiment of the anger they all felt as Tejada and his encased leg rode into an offseason of healing and rehab. Harvey needs to dig deeper than usual. The trademark aggression alone won’t cut it this time.
He needs to drill somebody. Anybody. If it’s Utley himself, so much the better. But somebody needs to go down hard.
Exacting that pound of flesh requires a delicate slice, though, for Harvey cannot spill a drop of blood. An indiscriminate pitch will undoubtedly bring Harvey’s night to an abrupt, early end, as the umpires will likely warn both benches about such things before the first pitch is even thrown. But let it go entirely, and an enraged roster may never forget how a pitcher whose selfishness has separated him from his teammates let villainy off the hook.
If Harvey does tend to those two bits of business, all will be forgiven. He will prove he’s worth the aggravation, whether self-made or agent-produced.
More to the point, he will forestall an elimination game Tuesday and take all sorts of heat off rookie starting probablen Steve Matz in Game 4.
The Mets need an avenging hero.
They need The Dark Knight to rise.