The New York Mets (2-1) took the rubber game of their season-opening series with the Atlanta Braves (1-2), winning 6-2 on Thursday night at Citi Field in Gotham.
Matt Harvey pitched for the Mets and was as good as anybody could have asked him to be in his first big league start since undergoing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery last summer. Harvey pitched 6.2 innings of three-hit ball, striking out four and walking none while allowing two runs on a pair of Matt Kemp home runs. “The Dark Knight” threw 77 pitches, 55 for strikes, while sitting around 94-96 MPH with his fastball and living comfortably in the high-80’s with his slider en route to his first win of the season and the 30th of his career.
With the afternoon rain subsiding in time for the game, Mets fans didn’t have to wait to see Harvey take the mound in the top of the first inning, but they didn’t get to see him there for long as the righty got through the top of the order in just six pitches. Atlanta starter Jaime Garcia got through a quick first inning of his own thanks to a diving catch from Nick Markakis to rob Jose Reyes and a ballpark that was just big enough to contain a deep drive from Yoenis Cespedes.
A double play in the second inning helped Harvey work around a Markakis single for another quick inning, and Garcia induced a ground ball of his own in the bottom half to erase Curtis Granderson. Both pitchers continued to keep the opposing hitters in check through the early innings, with Garcia working around a Cespedes double in the fourth to keep things scoreless.
The fifth inning, Harvey’s nemesis last season, got off to an ominous start for the New York pitcher when Matt Kemp crushed a solo shot to center leading off the frame. But rather than crumble as he did on so many occasions last season, Harvey struck out the next hitter and got a couple grounders to avoid further damage.
The Mets picked Harvey right back up in the bottom of the fifth, turning the game around on a Neil Walker single, a Jay Bruce walk, and a two-run double from Travis d’Arnaud that gave the hosts a 2-1 advantage. Pitching with the lead for the first time, Harvey tossed a clean top of the sixth and saw that lead grow in the home half when Garcia walked Cespedes and Wilmer Flores made him pay with a rocket to left that cleared the wall and stayed just inside the foul pole to put New York up 4-1. Walker doubled later in the inning for his second hit of the night, but the team was unable to cash in further.
After striking out Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman to begin the seventh, Harvey, still throwing hard and sitting at just 75 pitches, looked like he might go all night. In reality, he had just two more pitches, as Matt Kemp’s second bomb of the night and Terry Collins‘ quick hook combined to end Harvey’s night after 6.2 very encouraging innings.
After Jerry Blevins got a strikeout to close the top of the seventh, he Mets again responded to an Atlanta run with two of their own after the stretch. After reliever Chaz Roe hit Michael Conforto with a pitch, Reyes, perhaps in retaliation, sent one right back up the box for his first hit of the season. Asdrubal Cabrera singled to make it 5-2 and an error from Swanson on a Cespedes grounder allowed Reyes to score the sixth run of the night for New York.
Fernando Salas came in to pitch the top of the eighth for the Mets, and after a solid single, a cheap hit and then a slight misplay from Cabrera (ruled a single for Ender Inciarte) loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate, Salas fanned Swanson to retire the side and keep the Mets comfortably in front. Addison Reed pitched a much quicker ninth in relief of Salas, getting Atlanta 1-2-3 to seal the win.
Just about every Mets fan out there was nervous for tonight, and for good reason. Last season, Matt Harvey looked like an absolute shell of the pitcher we had come to know, and for no apparent reason. That mystery was solved with another mystery, as the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome diagnosis meant that Harvey would have to face a second major surgery and one that, unlike his Tommy John procedure, presented no clear, established road back for a flamethrower like him. This spring, Harvey showed some positive signs, but certainly wasn’t convincing, and heading into tonight’s start, nobody knew what to expect.
But when the game started, Matt Harvey looked like Matt Harvey. The real Matt Harvey. The no-flab, no-beard, all-business Matt Harvey, going after hitters, trusting his stuff, and finally having stuff he should trust. Mid-90s on the straight fastball, equally fast with the two-seamer, 88, 89 and even touching the 90’s with the slider— all with command. That Matt Harvey. And with the changeup being mixed in and the (very, perhaps unusually so) rare curveball in the arsenal as well, Atlanta’s hitters had no answers for the real Matt Harvey… aside from a slow, gimpy outfielder who, at least with the bat, looks like he might return to being the real Matt Kemp.
Is Harvey back to being a guaranteed ace every time he takes the hill? Of course not. It was one start, and there are a lot of factors that can’t go unmentioned. The Braves are a bad team with a weak lineup. Harvey, who struggled when he got to the middle innings last year, didn’t get his pitch count much past the point where he would normally be through four or five innings, and when he did get to that point, his night ended shortly thereafter with Kemp’s blast. He’s still not throwing as hard as he did in 2015 (and certainly not as hard as he did in 2013). He had more rest before this start than he will going forward. He wasn’t missing many bats (which would be a better indicator of future success, although I do think there is something to be said for pitching to weak contact and keeping pitch counts down), and didn’t avoid the home run ball that has plagued him since last season. So we can’t get ahead of ourselves and feel certain that he will dominate in his next start, and the ones beyond that.
But there’s not much more he could have done tonight to make Mets fans optimistic that the ace they once knew might be on his way back— while pitching as the #3 starter in what could be the best rotation in baseball. And remember, Dan Warthen doesn’t expect Harvey to have his best stuff until May. It might just be the third game of the season, but it’s a good day to be a Mets fan.
The only thing that really made Harvey not look like his old self was that the Mets actually got him some run support in this game. And with the Mets down by a run, the biggest hit came from a guy who has been scrutinized nearly as much as Harvey in Travis d’Arnaud. The catcher came up big with a two-run double that put the Mets in front. After Jay Bruce’s big game the previous night, seeing the two other guys with the most to prove this season step up in this game was encouraging.
The Mets only scored in two of their first 25 innings this year, so it was nice to see the team put together multiple productive innings in this one. Wilmer Flores showed why he’s going to be in the lineup against lefties this season, and a couple other guys had good nights as well. Cespedes has hit several balls to the track already this season; the home runs are coming.
It’s always nice to win a series, especially the first of the season. On to the next one.