NEW YORK -- Well, sure, the Mets could be in a lot better position in the World Series.
The National League champions have put themselves on the long road to that elusive first championship since 1986, thanks to the errors and bullpen collapses that cost them Games 1 and 4. The Royals snatched a 5-3 victory away from the Mets in the eighth inning on Saturday night at Citi Field, just as they had done with their backs to the wall against the Astros in Houston back on Oct. 12, when it appeared this might be a very short run for the defending American League champs.
And down 3-1 in the World Series, the Mets have their aces lined up for what could be a truly epic comeback. Matt Harvey, who wasn't at his best in Game 1 when he was matched up against Edinson Volquez, starts Game 5 on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on FOX), with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard lined up to work in Kansas City, if their teammates can give them one more shot at history.
"Matt has to give us one of those great outings he's capable of giving us,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said after the Royals rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win Game 4. "We're in a tough situation, but we're not dead yet. And we've got our three guys that we've turned to. Seems like each and every time we've had a big series, those are the three guys that we run out there, and we've just got to keep getting all three of them.''
Ask the Cubs how deadly Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard can be when they're at the top of their game.
Joe Maddon's team rolled into the NL Championship Series after hitting nine home runs in two games at Wrigley Field to finish off an NL Division Series win over the Cardinals. They'd scored 24 runs in five postseason games, including the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser in Pittsburgh, and had been made the World Series favorite by Las Vegas bookmakers.
Then the Cubs ran into Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard, who piled up 25 strikeouts while allowing only four walks and five runs in 20 1/3 innings. Add in a strong start by Steven Matz, and Chicago's magical season was over.
Against the Royals, Harvey and deGrom looked pretty ordinary. Alcides Escobar's inside-the-park homer on Harvey's first pitch in the World Series opener set the tone for Kansas City to score seven runs in 11 innings against Collins' first two starters.
You're going to hear a lot of people talk about fatigue catching up to the Mets' pitchers, and that's always a reasonable theory when guys who started working in February are pitching in November. But Collins knows his guys better than anyone, and he genuinely expects Harvey to be much tougher on the Royals this time around. Why? The biggest reason is that he's working on four days' rest, not the patchwork quilt of assignments that he was given after he suggested he shouldn't pitch more than 180 innings, given his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
The last four times that Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard were used on regular rest, they combined to go 8-1 with a 2.58 ERA, striking out 88 and walking only 14 in 76 2/3 innings. In the postseason, deGrom has pitched twice on four days' rest, and Harvey and Syndergaard once apiece (although Syndergaard's outing was in relief in Game 5 against the Dodgers). They're 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in those four outings, which included deGrom's dominant outing to overshadow Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles and the victories by Harvey and deGrom against the Cubs.
Collins believes there are times his pitchers have had too much rest.
"I don't think there's any question that can be a factor with Matt, because he's shown that, look, with five days' rest, he's pretty good,'' Collins said after the Game 1 loss. "With seven or eight, he's kind of erratic. Well, that's what it is. When you clinch like we did and you had the rest like we had, look, between that time, you've got to throw, and he threw. But again, there's nothing like pitching in a game to stay sharp.''
While Harvey has worked 208 innings already, his ERA is 2.71 for the season and 2.53 for his career. He said on Saturday he's pleased he'll be working on "a normal day's rest.'' But there's nothing normal about working an elimination game in the World Series.
"We've got Matt going, so I think we're excited about that,'' said second baseman Daniel Murphy, whose error contributed to Kansas City's three-run eighth inning. "I think we've just got to put ourselves in another position to win a ballgame, and hopefully we make the plays. Starting with me."
Teams leading a best-of-seven World Series 3-1 have gone on to win 38 out of 43 times, with the 1985 Royals the last team to dig themselves out of such a deep hole.
Those Royals, managed by Dick Howser and built around George Brett, had a young, powerful pitching staff, not unlike these Mets. In erasing the deficit to the Cardinals, they got masterful starts from Danny Jackson, Charlie Leibrandt and Bret Saberhagen, who held St. Louis to two runs in 25 2/3 innings in Games 5, 6 and 7.
So here's your road map, much more easily drawn than followed. Three nights of brilliance from Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard, and a lifetime of delighted memories for New York fans.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.