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Harvey indelibly linked with Seaver in imperfection

Young Mets right-hander twirls memorable gem, as Hall of Famer did in '69

NEW YORK -- Dwight Gooden knew nothing of Tom Seaver 29 years ago when he began to wow us. So no one could expect Matt Harvey to be aware of more than the broad strokes of Seaver's beginning with the Mets in 1967. Harvey has been introduced to the name and perhaps some highlights and Cy-lights of Seaver's career. But he lacks the expertise of Mets history that, say, David Wright, son of Norfolk (née Tidewater), has.

Now though, an undeniable link exists between the erstwhile Franchise and the young pitcher who is doing at Citi Field what Seaver and Gooden did at Shea Stadium. Each has pitched an Imperfect Game.

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Seaver threw his in the sainted summer of '69, weeks before Neil Armstrong took his leap and Woodstock took us higher. It came against the Cubs. He was perfect through 25 batters before dastardly Jimmy Qualls stained the evening.

Harvey threw his Tuesday evening in a time with so many unpleasant and frightful developments happening worldwide. He threw it against Chicago's other big league entry. And though he had retired merely 20 batters, though he needed five more outs than required of Seaver to accomplish perfection, he came closer to it than the little old winemaker in Calistoga, Calif.

Alex Rios was Harvey's Qualls. The White Sox's No. 3 batter hit a ground ball that might have produced the 21st out if not for its placement. Rios hit the ball to the right of Ruben Tejada. The shortstop moved to his right and backhanded the ball. He made the Jeter jump and, if he had been blessed with Jose's hose, then who knows who might have pitched the 10th inning for the Mets.

Though Harvey pitched merely nine, his seventh start was a complete game of a different kind. Rios' hit aside, he was dominant. A man in the press box addressed another writer who, before the game, had mentioned he never had covered a no-hitter in 40-something years on the job. His postgame rejoinder was, "You've seen one now."

Harvey was close to perfection aside from the data in the scoreboard. His catcher John Buck said merely 10 of the 105 pitches Harvey threw weren't what he wanted. Imprecision happens in an Imperfect Game. Hundreds of shutouts have been thrown by pitchers guilty of far more than 10 mistakes. And, no, the slider Rios pulled to the left side wasn't among Harvey's 10 oops pitches.

Rios eliminated most of the drama, but this was a White Sox-Mets engagement in May 2013. No one had come to the Citi anticipating a 12-10 game. This one maintained its suspenseful hold until pinch-hitter Mike Baxter pulled a single to right in the 10th. The Mets won, 1-0. The White Sox won nothing. And Baxter, a hero in Johan Santana's no-hitter almost one year ago, emerged as a hero in an almost perfect game. An Imperfect Game.

Qualls' hit reached the outfield on a fly. The Mets would have needed a dozen defenders to have had a chance to deny it.

The Imperfect Game, a uniquely Mets term, was born, though no one can recall who fathered the term. Leonard Schecter, then of the New York Post, now seems the most likely of the beat reporters of the time to have created what must be considered a genius identity for the most special game in Mets history to that point. But his contemporaries are uncertain.

A popular notion now is that Seaver himself was the first to use the phrase, the day after.

"I never wrote a headline," is his claim. "But it is a good one. Pretty distinctive."

And until Johan Santana interfered in the club's 51st season, it reminded us that the Mets, blessed with dominating starting pitching more often than most franchises, hadn't thrown even a no-hitter.

Now instead, we have two Imperfect Games to ponder and another connection between Matthew Edward Harvey, 24, of Connecticut and George Thomas Seaver, 24 at the time of Imperfection, who later lived in Greenwich, Conn. And each is a right-handed power pitcher who knows his way around a batter's box. Hmmm.

The comparisons are entertaining because they engage our imagination. Each guy has two syllables in each name. That must mean something. Right? Each is heart-attack serious when he's on the mound, each appears to prompt a heightened state of alertness in his teammates when he is on the mound. And, for one night at least, Harvey was connected to an offense that produced as if it was facing him.

Seaver became quite familiar with 1-0, from both sides, in his Mets summers.

Some Harvey night, it will be the Mets who have won nothing in a 1-0 game. Seaver and his colleague Jerry Koosman endured their share of those. Indeed, the first time Jon Matlack lost, 1-0, Seaver smiled, shook Matlack's hand, welcomed him to the fraternity and said, "You've passed the initiation."

It's a rite of passage for Mets starters.

Harvey can wait.

Marty Noble is a reporter for

New York Mets, Matt Harvey