NEW YORK -- Matt Harvey was so dominant on Tuesday night, and the White Sox so overmatched, that Chicago had only one hope for getting a baserunner. Alex Rios finally figured out the secret in the seventh inning: Hit a ball so softly, so slowly, that the Mets couldn't turn it into an out.
Rios' dribbler to the left side wasn't hit hard enough for shortstop Ruben Tejada to make the play, and so the outfielder managed to deny Harvey what would have been the first perfect game in Mets history. It scarcely mattered. Harvey's one-hit, no-walk, 12-strikeout game will be remembered for a long time in Flushing.
It's a very short list of better games in franchise history, and nearly all of the candidates were pitched by guys whose numbers hang on the outfield wall at Citi Field. According to Game Score, a metric devised by Bill James to assess a pitcher's performance, Harvey threw the second-best nine-inning game in Mets history. His 97 is tied with a 1970 one-hitter by Tom Seaver, and behind only David Cone's 19-strikeout game in 1991.
Harvey announced his presence with authority from the start, needing 14 pitches to breeze through the first. He showed he meant business against Rios in the first, as Rios fouled off an up-and-in fastball at 1-2 before flailing at a slider down and away to end the inning.
It's combinations like that that make Harvey so special. His first time through the White Sox order, he leaned heavily on his fastball, and didn't allow a runner. The second and third time, he worked in more curveballs, changeups and sliders, and had just as much success. He throws it all, he locates it all.
"Last year, he came up here and everybody knew he had the good arm," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "But the huge advancement he's made in the command of his stuff, I haven't seen it [before]. Not in one year. Especially the command of the changeup. He threw that changeup for a strike when he wanted to, and he threw it out of the zone when he wanted to. That's stuff that veteran guys, it takes them years to develop and certainly to perfect. And this guy is doing it. I'm telling you, he is so focused."
He was so focused that even a pregame nosebleed wasn't a problem. Harvey was visibly bleeding during the first inning, though the problem was finally controlled by the second. Not much else went wrong.
"Everything was obviously working," said Harvey. "When I can throw my slider for a strike and also bounce it when I need to, that's when it starts getting fun. That was definitely the best I've felt all year. Hopefully I can keep it going."
There's no reason to think he can't. Harvey has joined Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, and Clayton Kershaw as an appointment pitcher. Some nights are better than others, but when Harvey is pitching, you'd better not be far from a television or some other device where you can flip the game on as needed.
After 108 2/3 Major League innings, it's too soon to say he's as good as those guys. It's not too soon to say he's as watchable as they are.
Because what Harvey does is just what the great ones do. Sure, he throws hard. His stuff is elite, but his stuff was elite when he was pitching for Triple-A Buffalo. He has so much more.
Harvey complements his mid-to-high 90s heat with three offspeed pitches that he can throw for strikes or as chase pitches. He can hit all quadrants of the strike zone, and go out of the zone when he wants to. He can attack hitters three different ways on three different times through the lineup.
The rear-back-and-throw-it style of many youngsters is certainly entertaining. But Harvey isn't just absurdly talented, he's absurdly advanced for a 24-year-old in his third professional season.
"He has an idea what he wants to throw and obviously has confidence in all his pitches," said catcher John Buck, "which makes it kind of easy knowing what you want to do, if you can do anything you want at any time. It makes it very tough. Gives you a lot of options. He has the ability to miss out over the plate with his stuff and still get swings and misses with very good hitters."
It's easy to get too far ahead in praising young baseball players. Their weaknesses, with time, get exposed. The league figures everybody out, to some extent. But it's hard to see at this point what is going to get exposed about Harvey. He does so many things well, so consistently, that he's simply a marvel after 17 big league starts.
He takes the ball again on Sunday against the Pirates. You'd be advised not to miss it.