Before Mets fans had the privilege of watching Jacob deGrom blossom into one of the greatest pitchers of this generation there was another guy all eyes were on every time he took the mound.
Before fans were lining up hours before the first pitch to secure their Noah Syndergaard as “Thor” bobbleheads there was another guy playing the role of the resident superhero. Before deGrom and Wheeler and Syndergaard and Matz, there was Harvey.
Matt Harvey was unlike anything the Mets had seen since the late ’80s. A larger than life personality who wanted to play in New York, who wanted to take the torch from Derek Jeter as the face of New York baseball.
From ESPN the Body Issue to asking Mets fans about Matt Harvey on Jimmy Fallon he was off to a good start. He had the personality and demeanor to shine in New York, and most importantly, he had the play on the field to back it up. However, Harvey’s star shined bright and fast. It faded out just as quickly as it lit up the borough of Queens. What went wrong?
Let’s recap the rise and fall….and rise and fall, of Matt Harvey.
July 26th, 2012: Phoenix, Arizona
A 23-year-old rookie right-hander makes his big league debut. With fastballs darting through the strike zone at 97 and 98 MPH, Harvey carved through the Diamondbacks lineup to the tune of 11 strikeouts through five and third innings. Immediately, he cemented himself in Mets history by setting the record for strikeouts by a pitcher in their debut, edging out names like Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
In his debut, Harvey dazzled with an electric fastball rarely seen from a starter. This was the first glimpse into the bright future of the man soon to be dubbed “The Dark Knight”
May 5th, 2013: Flushing Queens, New York
The Bloody Nose game. Harvey was setting the league on fire over his first six starts of the 2013 campaign. He was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and had 46 strikeouts through his first 40.3 innings. Matt toed the rubber in the bottom of the first with blood dripping from his nose and down into his mouth. A frightening sight for Alejandro De Aza who also had to be wary of Harvey’s 96 MPH heater. The White Sox didn’t sniff a baserunner until the 7th inning when they finally broke through by way of an infield single.
That night Harvey tossed nine innings, struck out twelve, and surrendered nothing after the infield knock. Looking as untouchable as any pitcher in the league.
May 20th, 2013: Sports Illustrated
Tom Verducci wrote a column covering Matt Harvey’s life and journey to the big leagues. Harvey graced the cover of this magazine. It’s an overhead shot of Matt near the end of his delivery wrapped in the phrase “the Dark Knight of Gotham”.
Harvey seemed destined to be the hero the Mets needed to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. For better or for worse, he was now The Dark Knight.
July 17th, 2013: Flushing Queens, New York. 84th Edition of the MLB All-Star Game
For the first time since 1988, the Mets had a pitcher start the All-Star game and he was doing it in front of his home town. Harvey ran roughshod over the league through the first half of the season and rolled into the All-Star break leading the league with 147 K’s, a 2.35 ERA, and a 7-2 record.
For a guy who had less than 30 big league starts under his belt, the pressure had little to no effect on Harvey. After surrendering a leadoff double to Mike Trout and plunking cross-town All-Star Robinson Cano in the knee cap, Harvey retired the next six batters. Striking out sluggers the like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Adam Jones along the way. After his first 29 Major League starts he owned a career ERA of 2.47, the lowest since 1921. He was just getting started.
October 22, 2013: Birmingham, Alabama
Months after being shut down for the season, and after weeks of deliberating, Harvey went under the famous knife of Dr. James R. Andrews. His ulnar collateral ligament had betrayed him. By 2013 Tommy John’s surgery was a relatively common procedure with successful rehabilitation.
Tons of pitchers had had the surgery and returned none too worse for the ware. However, the one thing that is needed is time. This was the last thing the Mets, Harvey, and National League New York fans wanted to give. As the saying goes, it was too good to be true. Harvey would be absent from the field all of 2014 and fans were robbed of their newly found Hero.
The Rise, 2.0
April 9th, 2015: Washington D.C.
Number 33 stood atop the rubber for the first time in roughly 20 months and it was well worth the wait. After a successful spring where his fastball flirted with triple digits, it was time for the most anticipated return of 2015 across baseball. Without missing a beat or breaking a sweat, Harvey fired six scoreless innings in his return to the diamond with his fastball routinely back to 97. He only allowed four hits and struck out nine, three of which were of soon to be league MVP Bryce Harper.
Harvey had that swagger and that slight air of cockiness again. He would throw 97 right past you, or pull the string on that beautiful circle change and walk off the mound unimpressed, almost like it bored him to be there. The Dark Knight had returned. Happy Harvey Day.
July 31st, 2015: Flushing Queens
Wilmer wins it for New York! This day has been looked back on over the last few years as one of the most monumental in Mets history. Wilmer’s walk-off became a rallying cry, Zack Wheeler made it known that he did not wish to be traded.
The Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit, and they had just begun their quest to hunt down the Nationals for division supremacy. Mixed in with all of that excitement was largely forgotten about pitching performance of Matt Harvey. At this juncture in his career, Harvey was no stranger to pitching in tight ball games.
With the Mets clinging to a one-run lead, Harvey attempted to drag them across the finish line when he had a shutout going with two outs in the 8th. The Nationals finally broke through to tie the game at one, but you couldn’t ask much more of a starting pitcher. This epic night in Mets history will always be remembered for Wilmer Flores’ walk-off homer in the 12th, but this moment wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Harvey’s performance earlier in the night.
August 28th, 2015: Flushing Queens
Harvey tossed six scoreless surrenderings only two hits and striking out eight against the Boston Red Sox. Although that alone is impressive enough, this game was the finishing touches on a remarkable 30 days for the fireballer. Dating back to the July 31st start against Washington, Harvey slung 34 2/3 innings and allowed a microscopic two earned runs, good for an ERA of 0.52. With the Mets gaining control of the NL East in August, Harvey was at his best. He finally had the opportunity to play for a team in contention since being called up in 2012 and he was making the most of it. As the spotlight on the team grew, and in turn, the spotlight on him grew, he seemed to get better. He seemed to flourish in that spotlight. With October in his sight, concern grew that baseball super-agent Scott Boras would persuade Harvey to limit himself to 180 innings pitched on the season. With 2015 being his first season since returning from Tommy John surgery, Boras didn’t want Matt to push himself too hard too fast. However, post-season glory was enough for Matt to take this risk and he would find himself on the mound into November.
November 1st, 2015: Flushing Queens
World Series game 5. To this date, this is the last sighting of The Dark Knight of Gotham. Harvey dominated Kansas City in a do or die game five through eight innings. After striking out nine, the Mets clung to a two-run lead when Harvey got Ben Zobrist to fly out to end the 8th. After the inning Terry Collins attempted to shake Matt’s hand in congratulations as he planned to go to his closer in the 9th. When Harvey emphatically told Collins “No Way” the skipper agreed to send him back out for the last frame. The crowd erupted as their Hero came sprinting out of the dugout in the 9th. This is the last fond memory we have of Harvey. Since that leadoff walk in the 9th, and eventual loss in the deciding game 5 of the World Series, nothing has been the same.
The Fall, 2.0
May 19th, 2016: Flushing Queens
Matt Harvey began his descent from the mound before manager Terry Collins even reached him. He left to a chorus of boos, what superhero has that ever happened to before? Washington shelled Harvey over the course of his 2.3 innings. He allowed six earned runs on 11 hits.
Three years prior to this in 2013, Mets fans chanted “HARVEY’S BETTER” during a matchup against Strasburg. They were eating those words now after the latest matchup between the two. As the National’s 27-year-old ace went to 7-0 on the season, Harvey exited down the tunnel to the clubhouse with a 5.77 season ERA. Something wasn’t quite right with the former All-Star.
July 4th, 2016: Flushing Queens
Harvey’s 17th and last start of 2016. The Marlins tagged him for six runs in just 3.2 innings. This was a far cry from the Matt Harvey Mets fans were used to seeing. He looked demoralized. Gone was the bravado and fist-pumping from the 2015 Fall Classic. He looked like a shell of himself. A couple of days later, it looked as if we might have gotten an answer as to why. Harvey was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an issue where muscles in your neck and shoulder impinge nerves of the shoulder. It then came out that Harvey was having issues with feeling in the tips of his fingers. Although this wasn’t pleasant news, it seemed like Harvey and the Mets finally had answers. Harvey had risen once before, he would be able to do it again, right?
May 9th, 2017: Flushing Queens
Harvey, embarrassed, sat in front of the media after a three-day suspension. Matt failed to show up to a game the day after Cinco de Mayo. He admitted he stayed out late (likely partying) and opted to go golfing the next day rather than attending that day’s game.
It seemed like the pressure of playing in and living in New York was finally getting to Harvey. His actions turned the team into a circus over the weekend and all eyes were on him for the wrong reason. This came in the midst of him owning an ERA over 5.00
June 14th, 2017: Flushing Queens
Fast forward almost an entire calendar year since being diagnosed with TOC and we find ourselves back at Citi Field watching another Harvey implosion. After giving up back to back home runs without recording an out in the game against the Cubs, Harvey seemed the furthest away from himself that we had ever seen. In the 4th Kyle Schwarber launched a homerun that disappeared over the Shea Bridge in right-center field on a fastball that registered at 89 MPH.
Later in the week, Harvey would be diagnosed with a stress injury to the scapula bone in his right shoulder. With his fastball falling as low at 87 MPH, Harvey found himself injured and sidelined once again.
Somehow, I couldn’t pick just one game from the final month of 2017, Harvey was just that bad. After returning from his most recent injury, he worked 22.3 innings and allowed a whopping 43 hits and 28 earned runs. Striking out only one more batter than he walked (13,12), Matt looked like he didn’t even want to be out there, and who could blame him? He only pitched into the 5th inning once in this stretch, usually just making it through four innings of work before he was mercifully lifted for a pinch hitter. The only bright spot of this month was that it marked the end of his season. The Dark Knight was gone, and in his place was an unfamiliar face with a horrible command of a 93 MPH fastball who looked as if he didn’t care if he got an out or not.
Matt would go on to be traded during the 2018 season after he was reluctant to transition to the bullpen and later refusing to be optioned to Triple-A.
Harvey provided Mets fans with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. He once had the stadium filled to capacity with fans donning Bat Man masks. He also had those same fans a few years later chasing him out of town with pitchforks and torches. Harvey experienced a Major League career with such drastically opposed peaks and valleys you can hardly believe it. It seemed as if we were witnessing a movie that never got its conclusion. Harvey was supposed to regain his mojo and return to his superhero form. Instead, Harvey was nothing more than a dying star, slowly imploding on himself.
It is quite possible that Harvey gave his career to the Mets. Did he blowing past his 180-inning limit in 2015 to help the Mets reach the World Series doom him? We may never know.
What we do know though is that from 2012 – 2015 the Mets had one of the most electric and exciting starting pitchers in the game, and we owe Matt Harvey a thank you for that at least.
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