This one hurts.
It hurts Matt Harvey, quite obviously, and it undoubtedly hurts the Mets, who have so much of their future riding on that electric right arm.
But Harvey's shutdown with a partial tear of a right elbow ligament -- an injury that could lead to surgical intervention -- also hurts all of us baseball fans who love the next wave, the irresistible pull of dominance in development and in bloom, the bright orange cleats at the All-Star Game, the near no-hitter(s), and even the brief forays into late-night comedy and, um, modeling.
Harvey not only has the talent to be a superstar but the personality to embrace all that comes with that billing. He came out of the Mystic (Conn., that is) and emerged a Manhattanite, and while it's no secret some percentage of East Coast bias helped land him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the forefront of our fascination, he did plenty on the field of play to justify the incredible attention.
So, yes, this is a bummer for everybody. When Matt Harvey gets shut down, even temporarily, we all lose, and we will, of course, all hold out hope that Harvey won't become the latest member of the ever-growing Tommy John fraternity.
"When I heard the news," Harvey told reporters, "I was pretty shocked."
Harvey is now faced with the game's most expensive and most vexing reality, which is that, even in an era of prescribed pitch counts and innings limits, nobody has figured out the formula to avoid what happened here, and you wonder if anybody will.
Theories abound, and the most compelling -- to me, at least -- are the theories about extreme long toss and its ability to build up arm strength. I wrote extensively about it during Spring Training, focusing on O's prodigy Dylan Bundy and his utmost conviction that long toss was the key to his durability and velocity.
You know, Dylan Bundy? The kid who had to have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow three months later?
If defections of the human body are unavoidable, the latest and greatest attempts to avoid surgical intervention usually revolve around platelet-rich plasma injections. But as Bundy himself can attest, that methodology has proven more meaningful for guys experiencing inflammatory or osteoarthritic conditions than in guys faced with the dreaded elbow tear.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that the pitching motion is unnatural, the human body is unpredictable and there's really no accounting for why some guys enjoy prolonged and prolific careers while others take their prescribed 10-14-month detour on the road to Major League relevance. The elbow is a fickle mistress who doesn't seem to care about your fantasies (or fantasy team, for that matter).
You look for tell-tale signs, but they're as easily offset as they are alarming. Sure, as a student at UNC, Harvey did throw 157 pitches in an April 2010 complete game at Clemson, a jarring workload to every scout who tracked him. But he also had 22 days off after that start and has been properly pampered at every step of his pro career, so how much should we read into that outing?
It would be helpful, if only for future application, if the Mets had used and abused Harvey in some mathematically meaningful fashion. But they were as careful with him as any club is with a burgeoning ace. He threw 135 2/3 innings in 2011, 169 1/3 (between the Majors and Minors) in 2012 and had thrown 173 1/3 this year, en route to an innings limit general manager Sandy Alderson revealed to be about 210.
That's a 24.8 percent increase from 2011-12 and a prescribed 24-percent increase from '12-13. Quite reasonable.
Harvey averaged 103.7 pitches per game and never topped 121. Also very reasonable.
Perhaps the only lesson here is self-prescription, of sorts, for Harvey admitted he pitched through forearm discomfort for several weeks but chalked it up to usual pitchers' soreness. You want your professional athletes to apply the competitive fire that allowed them to ascend to their lofty state, but you also want them to listen to what their bodies are telling them.
People much more scientifically savvy than me will undoubtedly have better theories, but the most pertinent point, at this point, is how the Mets handle Harvey going forward. The desire to avoid surgery at all costs is understandable, and Adam Wainwright -- diagnosed in 2004 and surgery-free until 2011 -- is a prominent example of a guy who endured a partial tear for an extended period. But Wainwright is obviously more the exception than the rule, and these tears tend to be addressed inevitably, if not immediately.
Injuries are inevitable in athletics and, most particularly, at Harvey's chosen position and profession. Nobody has cracked the code, and Major League organizations have paid the price, to the tune of more than $1 billion of salary to injured pitchers in the past five years alone.
As fans of the game, we, too, pay a price, one more emotional than fiscal. It wasn't hard to get swept up in the Harvey hype, and it's not hard to empathize with every Mets fan praying for his speedy recovery.
The lesson for us, as always, is to enjoy every pitch from the arms of our aces, because the next one is promised to no one.