KANSAS CITY -- The Mets had been planning for this all through September when they rested and spotted Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, intending to have them ready to pitch if they made it to the World Series.
For a myriad of reasons, it hasn't worked out, which became obvious Wednesday night when deGrom barely made it through the fifth inning in a 7-1 Game 2 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
It appeared both young right-handers might be fatigued, and certainly off their games, as the Royals took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues at Citi Field with Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).
"There are times when we have tried to rest these guys where they have not been on a particular routine, which keeps them consistent," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And I think that is a factor at times.
"But we win because we ride our starting pitching. When they struggle, we're going to struggle. And that's what happened."
The innings are piling up, and if the Mets can come back, deGrom and Harvey will have one more start apiece before the season is in the books.
deGrom has made 34 starts and pitched 216 innings in his first full season. Harvey is at 32 starts and 208 innings, coming off missing a year because of Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to throw 180. Oh, and by the way, deGrom is also a Tommy John veteran, having undergone the ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow during his Minor League days.
These guys are high-velocity, high-impact pitchers. Harvey struck out 188 during the regular season and has 18 more during the postseason. That's basically a strikeout an inning. deGrom whiffed 205 during the season and 29 more during the postseason, which is a shade higher than one an inning.
But the Royals found a way to beat them. They don't swing and miss often. On Tuesday night, they missed only seven of Harvey's 80 pitches, and on Wednesday night, they hit air on only an astounding three of the 94 that deGrom tossed. Consequently, both pitchers struck out only two each. That's four in a combined 11 innings, way below their average.
They walked five -- Harvey a pair and deGrom three, which is also outside their norm. deGrom walked only 38 all season, Harvey just 37.
Collins was shocked when told about Kansas City's swing-and-miss stats against two of his top pitchers.
"They did exactly what people said, and they put the ball in play," Collins said about the Royals. "I told Jake not everything has to be a strike. You've got to move it around. You've got to change speeds, give them something to look at. If you continue to pound the strike zone, they're going to put it in play, and that's what they did."
Noah Syndergaard is next up in Game 3. There's ample proof that a team can come back from an 0-2 deficit and win the World Series, but no team has ever been down 0-3 in the World Series and survived.
The only Major League team to do that in a best-of-seven series was the 2004 Red Sox, who came back to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Syndergaard is another high-power, high-impact pitcher with 20 strikeouts in 13 innings this postseason and 166 in 150 innings after coming up from the Minors for good on May 12.
The Royals, in contrast, were the best in the Major Leagues this season with 973 whiffs at the plate. Their 81 strikeouts in 13 postseason games are the fewest among the four finalists in the LCS. It's just not what they do.
"I wasn't really surprised at it because we knew that coming in," deGrom said about Kansas City's propensity not to strike out. "I don't think it works on your head. I just didn't make a pitch when I needed to."
Baseball, of course, is a game of adjustments. The Royals are not going to suddenly start swinging and missing just because the Mets starters are trying to throw it by them.
Fatigue may certainly be a factor when it comes to these young, and in many cases surgically repaired, arms. The Mets tried to plan for that. But at this point, they have gone this far and they have to find a way.
"They're really, really good," Collins said about the Royals. "We've got to make adjustments back to back, from pitch to pitch at times. When they go up there, one thing they know we do is throw strikes. They can hunt the strike zone and know they're going to get something in there. So you have to make quality pitches or they're going to get hits off of you."