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This is everyday life for a New York Mets fan. My wife, Tracey, has died and died with the Mets for years, watching them every single night, enduring loss after loss just waiting for a kid like Matt Harvey to show up one day to make the pain and suffering worth it.
So we were going to take a night out of a vacation week to see Harvey or Zack Wheeler, another one of those everybody's all-Americans, and the schedule worked out for Wheeler at Citi Field on Monday night against Cliff Lee. I like to get to a game or two a season without wearing a media credential, without banging away on a laptop in some godforsaken press box, just to remember what it was like when I was allowed to be a fan.
|Matt Harvey gave Mets fans of all ages hope.|
But this wasn't about me. This was about her. My wife, who didn't care that the Mets were 19 games out of first place when they faced the Phillies, who were also 19 games out of first place. She didn't care that I paid $150 a pop on StubHub for good seats to watch a bad team.
She only cared that we were going to sit in the stands to watch hope in the form of Zack Wheeler. Winning isn't everything, or the only thing, no matter what Vince Lombardi did or didn't say. A sports franchise can sell something else besides winning to a fan base.
Hope. A losing team can sell hope as surely as it can sell a $12 beer at the concession stand, and my wife was 45 minutes away from hopping into our car Monday afternoon for the ride across two bridges when I told her that 50 percent of the Mets' hope might have just gone up in smoke.
"Matt Harvey tore up his elbow," I said to her. You would've thought I told her our beloved beagle had just passed away in her sleep.
Tracey recoiled, her face tightening into a knot as she ripped off a series of questions shaped by anger and shock. What do you mean? When did this happen? His elbow? Are you kidding me?
I assured her I was not kidding. I told her Harvey had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, and she said, "That's Tommy John [surgery], right?"
She called her mother, because that's the first person you call when your heart is ripped in half.
No, Matt Harvey didn't die Monday. In fact, before we started the drive to Citi Field, reports were coming in on Twitter that GM Sandy Alderson wasn't sure that Tommy John surgery would be necessary, that the team needed to wait for the swelling to go down first. Harvey himself said he would do everything he could to avoid going under the knife, but in the end, there's only so much he can control.
He's had forearm problems for a long time -- and tried to pitch through them -- and loyal Mets fans like my wife know there's always a price to be paid for that. Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in franchise history, and that turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, too.
Even if surgery is necessary, I assured my wife, Harvey can come back from this just as Stephen Strasburg came back from it. I was there that Citi Field night when Harvey didn't just outpitch Strasburg, but clearly made their matchup a game of Let's See Who Can Throw The Baseball Harder. Harvey was 24 at the time, and watching him pitch was like watching a charmed combination of Tom Seaver and Doc Gooden.
He was a bulldog, built to fire a baseball through a brick wall. More than anything, he was built to last.
Until he wasn't.
"They overused him," my wife contended after the devastating news hit about Harvey's UCL. Mets fans have been burned so many times over the years, they always need someone to blame.
But they always need someone to rally around, too, someone who brings them back to the games. Someone like Wheeler.
On the day the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants for Wheeler, I called his high school coach for a scouting report.
"In all my 28 years of coaching," said Tony Boyd of East Paulding High in Dallas, Ga., "I've never seen anyone with his ability. Zack was a man against boys in high school."
I called Wheeler's father, Barry, the same day. "He thought it would be cool to be in a rotation with [Tim] Lincecum and [Matt] Cain someday," Barry said, "but when I talked to him about the trade, he said he thinks this could be a quicker path to the majors."
Wheeler was 6-2 with a 3.49 ERA in the majors entering his matchup with Lee. He ended up delivering against the Phillies in a 2-1 defeat, striking out seven and allowing one walk and five hits over 6 2/3 innings before Terry Collins pulled him at 105 pitches, refusing to push the kid after the grim Harvey news. My wife thinks Wheeler has been throwing the ball better than Harvey of late, and now we know why.
On the car ride over to Citi Field, I told Tracey that maybe Wheeler will turn out to be the Michael Jordan of this partnership, and maybe a recovering Harvey will assume the role of Scottie Pippen. I didn't tell her that the Mets would match the Bulls' total of six titles, just that Harvey might return in good enough shape to help Wheeler win the Mets' first championship since 1986.
What else was I going to say? My wife needed to hang onto something on a day like this, just like all beaten-down Mets fans do.