NEW YORK -- The New York Mets were three outs away from sending the World Series back to Kansas City when Terry Collins, weathered baseball lifer, did something that weathered baseball lifers are not supposed to do: He surrendered to his human instinct. He locked eyes with his pitcher, Matt Harvey, and listened as the kid spoke passionately from the heart.
"No way. No way. I'm not coming out," the Fox camera caught Harvey saying.
"I want this game. I want it bad. You've got to leave me in. ... I want this game in the worst way," was how Collins said he heard it.
Harvey had been as electric in Game 5 as he has ever been, pre- or post-Tommy John surgery. He'd struck out nine Royals, and he'd delivered a mid-game stretch of six consecutive outs on whiffs. He'd given up four singles over eight shutout innings and 102 pitches and, of equal consequence, he'd carried himself like a man possessed by a redemptive spirit, releasing primal screams during the game and even encouraging the packed house at Citi Field to pump up the noise.
Towel slung over his shoulder, Harvey was some fire-breathing sight in that dugout as he confronted his manager, ordering him to send him out for the ninth so he could shove that innings-limit fiasco down the haters' throats once and for all.
"He's been through a tough summer," Collins would say. The people in the stands? They'd been through a lot of tough summers with the Mets, and now nearly 45,000 of them were chanting, "We want Harvey."
How could Collins not listen to them, the same fans who stood and cheered for a middling player, Wilmer Flores, on the July night everyone thought he'd been traded? The same fans who had traveled to Los Angeles and Chicago to watch their long-shot Mets advance in the postseason? The same fans the 66-year-old Collins had hugged and kissed and sprayed with champagne on this once-in-a-career carpet ride to the World Series?
The manager had already told Harvey he was done, that Jeurys Familia was taking his place to secure those final three outs. And then he suddenly called his audible. "You got it," Collins told Harvey. "You've earned this. So go get 'em."
It was the right call at the right time, no matter what Collins said in his news conference after this soul-crushing 12-inning defeat was complete. Sometimes, good managing and good coaching mean listening to your very best players. At the time Harvey dramatically raced from the dugout to the mound, inspiring an eruption in the stands, how many witnesses truly thought this was a bad idea?
"I let my heart get in the way of my gut. I love my players. And I trust them. ... And it didn't work. It was my fault." Mets manager Terry Collins on his decision to let Matt Harvey start the ninth inning
Familia had already blown two saves against Kansas City, though Daniel Murphy didn't exactly help his cause in Game 4. Harvey had gotten three outs on nine pitches in the eighth, and going into the ninth, he would say, "I felt great. I felt like my mechanics, everything was right where I wanted it to be. As a competitor and as a person, I always want the ball. ... In this situation I wanted the ball. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
With Citi Field about ready to fall down around him, Harvey had a 1-2 count on Lorenzo Cain before losing him on a walk. Cain stole second before Eric Hosmer doubled him home on a 94 mph fastball, compelling Collins to make a grim march to the mound. Harvey left to a rousing ovation, and all hell broke loose from there.
Hosmer scored the tying run on a daring two-out dash to the plate, a play that freaked out poor Lucas Duda, who unleashed a dreadful throw to Travis d'Arnaud. The Royals won their first championship in 30 years by breaking it open against Addison Reed in the 12th, and when the 7-2 final was frozen for eternity in the Citi Field lights, Collins walked into the interview room and blamed himself for his season's death.
"Obviously," he said, "I let my heart get in the way of my gut. I love my players. And I trust them. ... And it didn't work. It was my fault.
"I know better than that. I know that [Harvey] wants the ball. He never wants to come out, and he was pitching good. He was throwing the ball great. ... This was my fault."
Maybe the manager was merely taking the hit for his guy. Or maybe Collins was correctly reading his market, and understanding these circumstances required someone to pay. That is the simple term of engagement in New York when a team with a chance to win a championship fails to do so, and fails on a series of physical and mental mistakes that demand the cruelest of public rebukes.
Go ahead, take your pick of Mets who performed so admirably against the Dodgers and Cubs and then fumbled away a World Series to a team that didn't need the help.
Murphy? Thanks for disappearing at the plate and for turning the art of infield defense into a dark and ill-timed comedy.
Duda? What the hell kind of throw was that?
Familia? Was that Game 1 quick pitch to Alex Gordon really necessary?
Yoenis Cespedes? Do you actually think the Mets are going to offer you a nine-figure contract after playing the outfield and running the bases as if you were goofing around at some celebrity softball event?
Collins? Even your wife ripped you for wasting Familia in a Game 3 blowout and then refusing to use him for six outs in Game 4.
In win-or-else New York, this is often the time to strike down on the Mets with an unforgiving hand. To remind them they night never get another shot at this. To shred them for having all those young-stud arms and, you know, for still not getting it done.
But this needs to be the exception to the local rule. Despite their Game 5 meltdown, the Mets deserve so much better than to have another pile of infield dirt kicked into their haunted faces. The Royals already did enough dirt-kicking to last a lifetime, scoring those five runs in a 12th inning that felt longer than the New York City Marathon.
And man, did it hurt. The Mets had entered their first World Series in 15 years believing their first parade since 1986 was meant to be. But the Royals had radically different plans. They were the superior team, and they did to Harvey in the ninth what superior teams often do.
The Mets' players seemed to understand this, as they spent plenty of postgame time in their clubhouse congratulating one another with an enthusiastic series of bro-hugs.
"After the game," David Wright said at his corner locker, "I can't tell you how many fans were screaming into our dugout, 'Thank you.'"
But after Flores symbolically made the last out of 2015, Collins decided those fans needed a body to pounce on. So he threw them his own.
"I've got one of the best closers in the game," the manager said. "I got him in the game, but it was a little late. And that's inexcusable, for me. ... I won't be sleeping much the next couple of days, I'll tell you that."
Truth is, Collins should lose some sleep over his Familia decisions in Games 3 and 4. But the call to stick with his brilliant starter Sunday night was hardly inexcusable.
Only the result fit that description.