I think it's safe for me to say, without having been there, that this was probably the first game in the history of Citi Field that had electricity and hype from beginning to end. Opening Day doesn't count. You could hold Opening Day in Hoffman Park and draw 50,000. (They'd all be hanging on a small chain link fence, but still.) Johan Santana's no-hitter doesn't qualify because nobody knew what would be at stake until Carlos Beltran hit the chalk and didn't get a hit and then everybody looked at the scoreboard and went "whoa". And Yankee games don't count because interleague play is a Bud Selig production.
The matchup between Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg was being hyped since last Sunday. Anything Harvey does these days comes with a requisite amount of hype. Now throw Strasburg into the mix and you have a cauldron of fun. It sure as hell sounded like it from my television set. (Well, from my phone anyway. The big television was reserved for more serious events tonight.) Harvey went into this game with a keen sense of the moment which some might have mistaken for "distracted", yet was really just a healthy dose of honest. There have been so many comparisons between Harvey's major league beginnings, and those of one Doc Gooden, and then you hear that Gooden is going to be there? And then you get there, and he's sitting behind the plate watching you? Who wouldn't be distracted?
A nervous pitcher without focus lets the butterflies control him. Matt Harvey has to have butterflies. But as you can tell from most of his self-critical post game interviews, he has focus. With that focus, he has trained the butterflies to organize in his stomach and perform the zombie dance from Thriller. And when that happens, Harvey is a sight to see no matter who his mound opponent is. Seven innings, four hits, three walks, seven strikeouts (including a sweet bender to ring up Jayson Werth in the third that made me think I needed a cigarette) added up to a 7-1 win, and a win in Round 1 of what is sure to be a fun rivalry, invented though it may be.
The fun part was the seventh inning. Harvey got into some trouble after a walk, two singles, and a botched double play by Daniel Murphy. Some pitchers who shall remain nameless would have turned that into the aftermath of an overturned truck full of baby food. Harvey? Strikeout, pop-up, ground ball. Sit, stay, roll over. The game was over then and there.
(Okay, that's a play on Warner Wolf's "turn your sets off there". But that's clichè, because you and I both know that the game is never over when you have to give the bullpen six or 15 outs to play with. But Scott Rice and Robert Allen Parnell both went 1-2-3 and then, the worrying was over.)
It was interesting to note both pitchers' reaction to the game. Harvey acknowledge that it was cool to face Strasburg with Doc Gooden in the stands. Strasburg was basically all "Eh, I try to win every game." And I really want to respond by calling him a spoil sport and rag on him, basically because all the cool kids are doing it and I'm easily influenced. But let's be real: With as much hype and media coverage as Stephen Strasburg has gotten from jump in his major league career, who could blame him for thinking this is nothing more than a regular game for him?
That said Strasburg, though decent, was outpitched from the start giving up a run on a wild pitch and another on a Lizard Skin Buck single in the first inning. And then sealing his fate by giving up dingers to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda in the sixth. Davis, who would homer again in the eighth inning, needed that jump start in the worst way. Davis' 2012 season really didn't get started until June 12th. And trust me, I know how dangerous it is to say "This is the one!!! This is the jumpstart!!!" We're not going to know if this was the jumpstart until we flash forward to two weeks from now and Davis has his .173 average up to about .260. But when you hit a home run off Stephen Strasburg, the speculation begins whether you like it or not. So okay.
Then there's Duda, who also hit a dinger in the 8th. He's hitting over .300, and he leads the N.L. in OPS. Now … oh screw it. I have nothing for you. I can't explain it. Maybe Dr. Sam Beckett has taken over his body. Who knows. But yeah, I'll try. He has a new stance and he's hitting the ball harder … we know that. There's been a big deal made over the fact that Duda has taken more walks. Duda has always leaned towards patience at the plate. He has never been shy about taking a walk. His problem has been the pitches he has been swinging at have been the crap, and not the fastballs down the middle. Now, it seems that the pitches he's swinging at are the fastballs and laying off some of the dead fish thrown his way. And when he hits the ball, he's hitting it square. And when Duda hits it square it can go to the moon, as you saw tonight. This is the kind of offense that makes his lack of defense tolerable. And all he has to learn to do now is to avoid going a month without a double. He does that, he's there.
Let's just hope that Davis and Duda keep this going, because Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee are your weekend wine stewards and they need all the support they can get. But for right now, all is right with the world. Here's how right it is: just hours ago Angel Pagan drove in Andres Torres with the game winning run. And I'm not even in the mood to complain.