Last July, when Mets fans got their first glimpse of Matt Harvey on a big league mound, there was a sense that we were witnessing the beginning of what could be a special career. The pitcher who most were predicting would be a number two or three starter certainly looked like he had the potential to be much more than that. I opined at the time that Harvey was the best pitcher the Mets had drafted, developed, and seen debut for the team since Dwight Gooden in 1984.
After his promotion last July, Harvey compiled a 2.73 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 10 starts. He allowed 42 hits in 59.1 innings pitched while walking 26 and fanning 70. Like Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham,” Harvey had announced his presence with authority. What we’ve seen so far this season, however, has made last year’s version of Harvey look like a rehearsal to this year’s main performance.
By now, everyone has seen the numbers Harvey has put up over his first four starts of 2013. It can’t hurt to look at them again, right? He’s 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 0.66 WHIP. In 29 innings pitched, he’s walked nine while striking out 32. The most impressive thing, the one that makes the above stats legit, is the fact that Harvey has given up 10 hits combined over those four starts. He’s been nearly untouchable. The result? Matt Harvey’s starts are turning into events.
So far this season, aside from the numbers that speak for themselves, Harvey has been gushed about by both the local and national media. David Price of the Rays said that Harvey was his favorite pitcher (aside from current and former teammates), and Curt Schilling said he’d choose Harvey out of every pitcher in baseball if he was starting a team from scratch. As the mainstream has noticed, so have the Citi Field faithful.
I went to Harvey’s first start of the season. It was 35 degrees, but he jogged out to the mound without long sleeves and proceeded to dominate the Padres for seven innings. When he reached base, he refused to wear a jacket, later stating that jackets “don’t belong on a baseball field.” His next two starts were on the road, in Philadelphia and Minnesota. He didn’t have his best stuff in Philly, but still tossed seven innings of three hit, one run ball while striking out nine. He nearly pitched a no-hitter in frigid Minnesota, before returning home to face Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals last Friday at Citi Field.
Even though Harvey was great over his 10 starts last season, and although his first three starts of this year were spectacular, it was last Friday that officially turned Matt Harvey’s starts into must-see TV for those who aren’t at the ballpark and events for those who are. I had plans to celebrate one of my friends’ birthdays the same night as Harvey’s duel against Strasburg. Like me, my friend is a die hard Mets fan (as are a few of my other friends who were there). I made sure I trekked to the bar in the West Village in time for the first pitch. Before ordering a drink, I made sure the bartender turned the Mets game on. From then on, it was a half celebration/half fixation with what Harvey was doing to the Nationals. Harvey’s start was highlighted by “Harvey’s Better!” chants from the crowd and culminated with him escaping from a seventh inning jam before unleashing a primal scream while he was walking off the mound.
Shortly after, the friend whose birthday we were out celebrating asked us if we wanted to go to the game Wednesday (he has season tickets). I of course said yes. After doing so, I realized that Harvey would be pitching that night against Los Angeles. Since then, we’ve been talking about it every day. To take nothing away from the Mets as a whole, we’re not going to the Mets game tomorrow. We’re going to see Matt Harvey pitch.
When Pedro Martinez arrived, it was certainly exciting, but not like this. The same can be said for Johan Santana‘s arrival and the tremendous season he had in 2008. R.A. Dickey‘s journey to 20 wins last year was also incredible. Attending those starts in person or watching them on TV was a blast, but they weren’t events.
I was only six months old when Dwight Gooden debuted for the Mets in 1984. The older Mets fans I’ve spoken to talk about those starts in reverential tones. Here was a 19 year old kid on the mound at Shea, blowing away hitter after hitter on his way to a 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA, and 276 strikeouts. This, of course, was before his historic 1985 campaign. Matt Harvey is different from Dwight Gooden in many ways, but he’s causing the same kind of reaction among the fans.
Unlike Gooden, Harvey was drafted out of college. He arrived in the majors when he was 23, not 19. In place of the skinny kid who everyone thought would be an ace, is a man who has come up and immediately changed what the expectations of him were. Harvey stands on the mound, unafraid of anything and in control of everything. With a wad of tobacco in his mouth, he’ll use his blazing fastball to brush a hitter off the plate or paint the black with it on the outside corner at the knees. His slider is at times unfair. His curve drops off the table, and his changeup rounds out his incredible four pitch arsenal.
Harvey is never satisfied. After his near no hitter, he was disappointed because he had walked two hitters. He’s an almost impossibly good mix of talent, brains, and bravado. When you mix those three elements in with the expectations he has for himself (to be perfect), you get what’s been materializing in front of our eyes. People have compared Harvey to Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. At this point, I think we should stop with the comparisons and let him form his own identity.
Like Gooden in 1984, Harvey has burst onto the scene for the Mets after the team endured a string of forgettable campaigns. Upon his arrival in ’84, Gooden electrified Shea Stadium and helped change the perception of the Mets. Two years later, they won the World Series. In 2013, Harvey has made Citi Field feel like home on the nights he’s toed the rubber, eliciting a palpable energy that’s been absent since the place opened its doors. If he has it his way, Harvey will do the same thing Gooden did. He’ll help to again make this team relevant, before leading the charge that makes the New York Mets a force. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.