Marvelous Harv tailor-made for Sunday viewing
Mets ace -- and Wheeler -- brings special buzz to end-of-the-week matinees
NEW YORK -- Shea Stadium was a "dark" ballpark in those days, more specifically, those nights. The artificial lighting was such that batters could see only the top halves of the baseballs thrown by the likes of Tom and Jerry, Gentry and Matlack, Doc and David. Strikeouts piled up partially because of that half-moon effect.
Doc Gooden preferred pitching at night -- anywhere, not just at Shea -- and that was before an alarming disparity between his nighttime and daylight ERAs developed and was noted. He particularly liked Friday nights at Shea. The crowds were louder, hungrier and more raucous on Friday nights.
Seaver (and the others) didn't much care. He could beat the daylights out of any opponent, regardless of starting time. Twilight starts might have enhanced his performances -- see April 22, 1970, when, with twilight as his accomplice, The Franchise struck out the final 10 Padres batters in a complete game. But twilight starting times were uncommon until network television demanded them.
These days, the Mets play their home games in a brighter park, where no dark side of the moon exists. And now their power pitching comes from Marvelous Harv, their newest phenomenon. Matt Harvey can beat any team on any day the calendar offers. When he overwhelmed the Phillies for six innings Sunday, he gained his first career victory on a Sunday. Granted, that's pretty much a "So what?"
But for now, while the Mets are creeping their way back to relevance and respectability, Sunday is the right day for Harvey, or his dynamic partner Zack Wheeler, to pitch. To win. To dominate.
Sunday games are, for the most part, afternoon games, ending early enough for folks to know of the outcome before sack time and perhaps catch an SNY rerun if they missed the live matinee. The game can be reviewed, discussed and -- if the outcome was favorable and either Harvey or Wheeler asserted himself -- embraced. Moreover, the results can reviewed again during the Monday morning coffee break. And with Monday often an off-day, the Sunday Harvey or Wheeler start can stand for more than 24 hours. It's afterglow with legs. It can put a happy face on two days.
That sort of afterglow is how a following for a team regenerates. Winning streaks may not come until later. But a team and its constituency can begin to believe if the positives remain prominent for a day or two. Winning games on Sundays or on Wednesday afternoon getaway days followed by off-days can have that effect.
Syd Thrift, the late, quirky and free-thinking man who served as general manager for the Pirates, Orioles and (briefly, sort of) for George Steinbrenner's Yankees, said as much.
Thrift had uncommon ideas about so many things that he believed affected performance -- time, in the sense of how much elapsed between games; lighting as it affected office employees, ballpark music as it affected players during batting practice and pregame drills, the color of seats.
"If they're going to be empty," he once said, "they ought to be the team's colors. Fans will be more apt to buy souvenirs -- shirts and caps -- if the team colors are prominent."
And oh, how he liked his teams to win on Sundays.
"If you've leaving on a trip after a Sunday game, it puts you in a good frame of mind for a long flight. More time spent thinking positively," Thrift said. "More time spent together with positive thoughts being exchanged."
Not that a pitching coach, not even a Thrift disciple, would fiddle with his starting rotation to have it fit the day. But Thrift did make you think. The game has had some player who were Sunday Bests. Charlie Maxwell comes to mind first. He played for the Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox from 1950-1964, when Sunday doubleheaders were routine. Sundays were his. Maxwell developed several nicknames -- "Paw Paw" was one; he lived in Paw Paw, Michigan. "Smokey" was used less often. The "Sunday Slugger" and "Sunday Punch" seemed more to the point. The "Sabbath Smasher" was mostly a headline ID, but only for him.
Maxwell hit 148 home runs in his career, 40 of them (27 percent) were hit on Sundays. And Sundays generally constitute 14.3 percent of the days in a week. Sunday doubleheaders do dilute that statistic, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?
The Sunday phenomenon took hold in early May 1959, after Maxwell produced 16 total bases in four successive at-bats against the Yankees at Briggs Stadium, hitting a home run off Don Larsen in his final at-bat in the first game of a doubleheader and home runs off Duke Maas, Johnny Kucks and Zack Monroe in his first at-bats in the second game.
Perhaps David Wright was presenting his interpretation of Maxwell's specialty this Sunday, when he produced four extra-base hits in Harvey's victory. He'll have to work on that.
Harvey is not likely to start again on a Sunday until after the All-Star Game -- which he will start if Bruce Bochy is thinking of an appropriate choice for a Midsummer Classic to be played in Citi Feld. And after the break, who knows?
Though spot starters routinely started second games of doubleheaders, only one instance of always-on-Sunday pitching comes to mind. Ted Lyons of the White Sox (1923-1946) pitched almost exclusively on Sundays in the final seasons of his Hall of Fame career. And he won consistently.
"My kind of pitcher," Thrift recalled years after Lyons' retirement.
In 1935, White Sox his manager Jimmy Dykes had Lyons pitch six days' rest -- three was the norm, or once each week. Pitching mostly on Sundays, Lyons produced a 15-8 record and a 3.02 ERA, his lowest in since 1927.
According to SABR, "Dykes designated him as the Sunday pitcher who would start one game of that day's doubleheader. 'When I was a kid, my mother wouldn't let me play ball on Sunday,' Lyons said. 'Then for three or four years, that's the only day I played.'
"Lyons thrived on the lighter schedule, usually winning a dozen with a better-than-average ERA. In 1939, he produced a 2.76, the best of his career to that point, in 21 starts. He was chosen for his All-Star team for the only time in his career, but he didn't pitch."
Just as well. The All-Star Game was played on a Tuesday.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.