MMO Fan Shot: Matt Harvey Will Rise Again

matt harvey

An MMO Fan Shot by Joe O’Connor

By the end of May 2013, he was the Dark Knight.  He was the savior of Queens.  He was lighting up radar guns, wiping out hitters with his devastating slider, and doing so with a swagger that Mets fans hadn’t seen since the glory days of ’86.  My, how things have changed…

Tom Verducci, the “baseball-famous” writer for Sports Illustrated, appropriately gave Matt Harvey the moniker.  After making his long awaited debut in July of 2012 in Arizona – striking out 11 batters over 5.1 innings and doubling off the wall in center field, Harvey became the buzz of New York City.  Every start was must watch television, if for nothing else than to see a glimpse of what the future held for a down trodden franchise.  Harvey would be shut down before the last week of the season, but that was fine as 2012 wasn’t his breakthrough season, anyway.

It’s funny to look back at that time for Mets fans.  Harvey fell from grace so quickly and so dramatically.  His 2013 season has almost become folklore.  Through June of that year (one month after embracing his Dark Knight alter ego), he sported a 2.00 ERA, while striking out hitters at a rate of over 10 per nine innings.  The fan base was in a frenzy as good times were heading our way again. Matt Harvey was tangible proof that the future had arrived.

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I still distinctly remember hearing the news of Harvey’s UCL tear.  Tommy John surgery, immediately.  2014 out the window.  See you in a year.  It felt like a punch to the gut.  I lay out on my couch for what felt like an eternity.  How could this be happening?!  It was a crushing blow to a Met fan’s psyche because 2014 was supposed to be “the year.”  The year we’d all been waiting for after a long, painful rebuild.  But now, as our hopes for October baseball in 2014 faded, we also realized that we were also losing the thrill and excitement that came with every Matt Harvey start. Harvey Day had become a thing and was always the hottest ticket in town. But alas, the Dark Knight was gone indefinitely…

The 2014 season was long yet glimmering with hope.  It was headlined with the development of top prospect Zack Wheeler, a long-haired Jacob deGrom came out of nowhere to win Rookie of the Year, and young Noah Syndergaard had soared to the top of the prospect rankings. So, we reset our goal posts for 2015 – a process that’s been ingrained in our mental muscle memory.  2014 was still the year that lacked Matt Harvey and everyone felt it.

So, in 2015, with his Tommy John rehab on schedule, a little hope was rekindled.  The Nats had become the powerhouse in the void left by the Mets.  Or at least the void they were supposed to fill.  Harvey’s first Spring Training start came with much fanfare. I eagerly watched every pitch with bated breath.  Fastball at 96 mph!  Slider that fooled the hitter badly!  Fastball at 98 mph!  Struck him out!  He’s back!  Waves of relief…

But the Mets entered the regular season with a bit of controversy.  Because of the fragile youth of the pitching staff, and to especially accommodate Matt Harvey, a six-man rotation was put in place. The start to the new season however, took an ominous turn as Zack Wheeler tore his elbow ligament and needed Tommy John surgery of his own.  This was devastating news, but at least we had Harvey back.  There was still hope.

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The plan for a six man rotation seemed to make sense.  Treat these guys with kid gloves so that they can be unleashed if we’re fortunate enough for a postseason berth.  The first in nearly a decade.  But there were some dissenters.  Fans mostly.  Some baseball minds in media.  But the most confusing dissenter of all – Matt Harvey.

Part of me appreciated the gusto.  He was bringing back that same bravado and swagger that we all so loved in 2013.  It was the same Matt Harvey, after all.  Scott Boras, the infamous baseball agent, inserted himself loudly into the discussion to vouch for his client.  There were a lot of closed door discussions about innings limits on Harvey (which is a generally accepted evil with Tommy John recoveries).  Boras and Harvey, somewhat begrudgingly, accepted the ace’s new routine.

Harvey would pitch once every six days, instead of five.  I understand pitchers have their routines and they matter to the health and psyche of every pitcher, but this seemed reasonable for a team with real postseason aspirations.  Besides, the burden seemed to be on the rest of the pitching staff, if anything, as they were the ones making the adjustment for the sake of their teammate.

One thing became very apparent, Harvey didn’t have his 2013 electric stuff, but the consensus was that he was impressive given his long layoff from the game.  And the good news was that Harvey was still dominant and he got better as the season wore on.  By the time the Mets were ready to make their push towards the division and pass the Nationals, Harvey was regaining his grit and attitude after a first half of ups and downs.

Then, at the end of July, with the Nationals teetering, the Mets acquired slugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers.  And suddenly it was pedal to the metal for Matt Harvey and the Mets. Storming past the Nationals, the Mets looked like they were going to steamroll their way into the postseason.  And they did.  And it was great.

That’s how I remember it most of the time.  But it was a couple of weeks ago that I looked back on that stretch run.  SNY was airing the division-clinching game in Cincinnati and I rewatched the closing innings and postgame (yes, I do that sometimes).  Harvey pitched into the seventh inning and he was spectacular. Watching the clubhouse celebration afterward was both surreal and nostalgic, but it was this interview that reminded me just how much we missed our Dark Night:

We see an emotional Matt Harvey, explaining how important it was for him to be out there – for his teammates.  It’s a Matt Harvey we hadn’t seen in a long time.

You may recall that not long before that Mets Classic. in early September, when it seemed that the postseason was actually going to happen, with a fanbase buzzing for the first time in ten years, Boras reemerged alongside the Dark Knight to discuss Harvey’s innings limit. And it wasn’t just renegotiating innings.  It was seriously considering shutting Harvey down altogether.  Like, down down.  Like, no pitching.  No playoffs.

Understandably, Mets fans went ballistic.  And to a degree turned on Harvey.  We felt betrayed.  Harvey was supposed to be the one to lead the Mets to the postseason.  Without him, we’d likely face an early exit.

Sandy Alderson didn’t take kindly to it either.  The ultimate decision was to shorten Harvey’s starts, but also skip a few outings down the stretch to be available in the postseason.  And maybe be on an innings limit then.  No one knew.  Harvey’s next start put the exclamation point on the whole debacle.

Our cross town rivals were in town and Harvey was scheduled to take the mound against Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia.  After five shutout innings, Harvey was removed in a 1-0 game with the Mets barely hanging onto a skinny lead.  It was surreal.  And almost poetically, the Mets surrendered the lead in the following inning, yielding five quick runs.  The final score – an 11-2 Yankees beatdown.  An embarrassing loss, that maybe didn’t mean much in the standings, but represented what every Mets fan felt at the time.

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The reaction was bitter.  If Harvey was your favorite pitcher, you found yourself gravitating to deGrom or Syndergaard.  But Harvey wanted to do right by his teammates.  What drove him to speak out publicly was the media reaction that questioned his devotion to his team and teammates.  This bothered him and you see it on his face in the interview, as he struggles to hold back tears.  Call him what you want, but he would never allow himself to be painted as disloyal.  So by pitching into the seventh inning of that division-clincher, he was making a huge statement.

That postseason brought similar ups and downs, as we came to expect with Harvey.  A rocky performance, a stellar performance, and a STELLAR performance, only to be gut-checked yet again in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5.

That offseason was difficult as a fan, but in many ways Harvey earned his way back into the hearts of a lot the Mets faithful.  I was in that group.  Pretty easy to please in that way.  Show me you care and I’ll return the favor.  But on top of that, after researching and reading about the Tommy John Surgery process, I am finding myself sympathizing with Harvey more and more.

To me at the time, it seemed like he was backing out of the playoffs after Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins force-fitted a six man rotation to accommodate him.  And he was against it.  Now, I realize.  It was fear, not arrogance.  Up until that point, Harvey never showed vulnerability on a baseball field.  Off the field, he lived the good life that success in New York can provide.  With the surgery, Harvey’s short lived success probably felt fleeting, so at the thought of pitching another 30-40 innings in 2015, he balked.  But only balked, never refused.  And that’s why I respect him.  At the time, the frustration only came because I thought this scenario had been accounted for.

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But as with anything this controversial and polarizing, Harvey – the Dark Knight – never regained his full stature in the minds of (what feels like) the majority of Mets fans.  In the offseason after the 2015 World Series run, people were ready to abandon ship.  Most wanted him traded, citing the inevitability of him ending up in Yankee pinstripes one day (which drives me nuts, by the way).  Some claimed the Wilpons’ frugality wouldn’t allow the Mets to retain their starters.  Which is fair, but it was amazing to me how Harvey became the odd man out.  Remember “2013 Harvey”?  The Dark Knight?

The 2016 circus that surrounded Harvey almost felt appropriate.  The media scrutinized and mocked his early season medical issues.  Then as he battled with consistency, posting a 4.86 ERA through a partial year, news broke of another setback.  Thoracic outlet syndrome… *googles what that means*

The new 2017 storyline of Matt Harvey is health and another comeback.  At 28 years old, he could potentially become a two time “Comeback Player of the Year”, provided things turn around for him.  Reporters in Port St. Lucie are admiring his determination and focus.  It appears he’s embracing the camaraderie with his teammates, when in the past he had a reputation of being a loner.

Doses of humility are never pleasant and Matt Harvey has had his share in his short career.  Who knew the savior of the Mets in 2013 would travel the path he’s had to endure?  In 2017, Matt Harvey will look to prove doubters wrong.  Here’s to hoping he can…

It’s funny, though.  At the time Verducci wrote his piece, he profiled a Mets superhero.  The Dark Knight was what Gotham needed.  But maybe Verducci was more accurate than he even intended to be.  The Dark Knight is supposed to fall.  Only to Rise Again…

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This MMO Fan Shot was written by Mets die-hard Joe O’Connor. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Send your article to FanShot @ MetsmerizedOnline.com. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.

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