It was a beautiful 60-degree day in New York as the Orioles and Mets faced off in Game 2 of a short series, but Matt Harvey’s return to Citi Field wasn’t quite as beautiful. Mets fans gave Harvey a classy standing O as he took the mound, but 4 2/3 innings with seven runs allowed was not what any of us were hoping for from Harvey today.
Even so, I admire the righty plenty. He’s not particularly pretty to watch on the mound, working at a slow and laborious pace, grimacing and casting weary skyward glances all the time. But, as manager Brandon Hyde repeatedly says, he’s a professional. Harvey missed up in the zone too often today, but he also worked his way through bad luck in the field, a measly strike zone (today, Carlos Torres, the home plate ump, decided to lop off the corners), ineffective relief pitching, and a complete lack of offense.
As you were sadly right to expect, an Orioles’ offense that ranks 25th in the league in WAR did zilch to support their man against Mets starter Taijuan Walker, a key part of a Mets staff boasting a sub-2 ERA.
There were some crucial near-misses, like when Austin Hays was denied extra bases off the wall in the first by a sprinting Kevin Pillar in centerfield. Or when the Orioles wasted two straight walks—to, of all people, Maikel Franco, 4-for-his-last-44, and Rio Ruiz, sporting a .155 average—when a Chance Sisco oppo-field liner was snagged by former friend of Baltimore Jonathan Villar. Or when Hays destroyed another hanging slider that rightfielder Michael Conforto reeled in with a diving grab in the third. Or when Ryan Mountcastle singed a ground ball in the fourth, but right at second baseman José Peraza.
Orioles bats made some noise—like, literally, with four of the five hardest-hit balls all game, all above 100 mph, and a collective xBA of .280 through five innings—but the results weren’t there, with a miserable 0-for-9 line with RISP. Part of this was due to an annoying series of webgems by a Mets defense with the worst fielding percentage in the majors (.977). Part of it is the fact that, when your starting second baseman, third baseman, and catcher are hitting .161, .201, and .156, respectively, pushing runs across may become something of an issue.
Meanwhile, Harvey’s stuff looked OK, though not the best we’ve seen this season. After a three-up, three-down first inning for the righty, announcer Scott Garceau pronounced, “No butterflies,” almost certainly incorrectly. Then Harvey started missing up in the zone, and things went sideways.
The Mets led off the second with four straight hits against Harvey: a Pete Alonso double down the line, a soft single to center, a deep flyball that Cedric Mullins/Mountcastle didn’t play well, then a single right past Franco. In the blink of an eye, it was 3-0 Mets with no outs. Considering, it was nice to see Harvey escape the inning without further damage. He was aided by a Freddy Galvis webgem, by the NL pitcher batting rule, and by Villar, who greedily swung through a 94-mph fastball.
The Mets tacked on another run in the third. Harvey allowed a single to the speedy Francisco Lindor, who drew about eight hundred pickoff throws, give or take, before stealing second. Dominic Smith took advantage of a miserably stingy strike zone to single Lindor home before a pop-up ended the damage.
Harvey breezed through the fourth, with a nice moment of levity when the opposing starter, Walker, stood so still at the plate for out No. 3 that announcer Ben McDonald went, “C’mon, big fella! At least take a hack at it!” Garceau quipped, “I’ve got a nomination for the least competitive at-bat in baseball history!” Not bad, gentlemen.
But the good times ended in the fifth. Villar stroked a high sinker to center, stole second, then scored the Mets’ fifth run on a slowish groundball Harvey couldn’t field. When Harvey walked the next batter, Brandon Hyde yanked him.
Harvey deserved a little better than the “relief” he got next. Shawn Armstrong announced himself with a bunch of hanging cutters and a double and single allowed to score the two inherited runners and really tank the Harvey ERA. With a 10.13 ERA himself this season, Armstrong is fast becoming my No. 1 candidate for “Player I’ve Seen Enough Of in 2021.” He drew two strikeouts to end the inning, but it was the end of the fifth, and the Orioles were now in a 7-0 hole.
In the seventh, the Orioles plated their sole run with the least sexy rally imaginable. Freddy Galvis drew a leadoff walk on another ridiculous non-strike call. (Calling ‘em like I see ‘em, even when the O’s are the beneficiary.) Rio Ruiz stroked a ball the other way for a single to move Galvis to third and his own average all the way up to .161. Sisco hit a weak fielder’s choice for a most anticlimactic RBI. (If there were a couple of offensive bright spots today for the Orioles, they were Cedric Mullins, who singled and walked, Austin Hays, who tore the cover off the ball twice and singled once, and Trey Mancini, who had two hits.)
Another nice development was a pair of solid relief outings by Orioles rookies. Lefty Keegan Akin pitched a breezy sixth inning in his first appearance of the year, thanks to Taijuan Walker’s continued refusal to swing the bat, and a nice deceptive fastball to strike out Villar. The big righty Tyler Wells also turned in a scoreless two innings with just one walk and no hits allowed. His fastball must look pretty scary tunneling down at you from his 6’8” height, and Wells himself looks like a real bullpen piece now.
Today’s main takeaway, however, is that it’s impossible to watch this team right now without concluding that some of the holes in the lineup are too big to be ignored (Orioles infielders not named Mancini and Galvis, I’m looking at you). This offense needs an injection of energy and some punch, badly. It’s too bad Adley Rutschman isn’t ready to take over at catcher just yet, but infield prospects there are a-plenty: Jahmai Jones, Rylan Bannon, Richie Martin, even Stevie Wilkerson, hitting a torrid .360 in Triple-A right now.
Orioles fans, would you be ready to see some new bats in the lineup?