Matt Harvey didn’t get a win against the Red Sox on Saturday, because he didn’t make it all the way through the bottom of the fifth with a lead. It still felt like a win for Harvey, though, as he begins to try to save what was once such a promising career -- when he was a kid and had Mets fans thinking he had the talent to be an heir to Tom Seaver.
Seaver threw out the first pitch prior to the All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013, before Harvey started the game for the National League and pitched the first two innings. It was as if a torch had been passed that night. But that was before everything began to go wrong for the right-hander -- first with Tommy John surgery, then thoracic outlet surgery on his pitching shoulder and even a stress fracture in his scapula four years ago.
By last season, Harvey was pitching for the Royals and had an 0-3 record to go with a 11.57 earned run average. It was Jacob deGrom who turned out to be the heir to Seaver with the Mets. deGrom will turn 33 in June. Harvey is still just 32, the number he wears for the Orioles, for whom he pitched 4 2/3 innings on Saturday and gave up six hits, a couple of runs and struck out four. His fastball on this day at Fenway Park averaged out just a tick under 93 mph.
“I think getting into a couple jams and then being able to get out of it -- especially early in the game -- I think that was huge for us to kind of get to the point where we did and win the game, eventually” Harvey said after the game. “Obviously, I’m kicking myself to not get out of that fifth and deeper in the game. But overall, I think it was a solid first start and [I will try to] build off that next time.”
There was a time when Mets fans designated any Harvey start as, “Harvey Day,” back when he was supposed to become what deGrom evolved into. Before he got hurt in 2013, after that All-Star Game, Harvey had a record of 9-5 and an ERA of 2.27 in 26 starts. He struck out 191 batters in 178 1/3 innings and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting that year. Then, came the injury to his arm and the Tommy John surgery.
I asked Omar Minaya, the former Mets general manager and an advisor with them until last season, what he saw from Harvey when he was the kid nicknamed the “Dark Knight of Gotham” by Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated.
“I thought he was going to be a frontline starter, [a] No. 1 or No. 2, a power pitcher with attitude,” Minaya said. “His attack mentality reminded me of Roger Clemens.”
But Harvey came back from that. In 2015, the year the Mets made it to their first World Series since the 2000 Subway Series against the Yankees, Harvey was 13-8 and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning. There was an April start when he dominated the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, making Alex Rodriguez look particularly helpless now that he had his fastball back.
In October of that year, he pitched the game of his life at Citi Field against the Royals, in Game 5 of the World Series as the Mets were trying to keep their season alive and at least take the Series back to Kansas City for a Game 6. Harvey had a shutout going through eight innings and famously talked manager Terry Collins into sending him back out for the ninth. Then, he gave up a walk and a double before exiting, as the Royals ended up tying the score and eventually winning the game -- and the series -- in 12 innings.
Since that night, Harvey’s won-loss record in the big leagues is 19-34. The Mets, who grew tired of Harvey’s high profile in New York City despite lower and lower returns on the mound, finally traded him to the Reds in 2018. He was 7-7 for Cincinnati in 24 starts, with a 4.50 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 128 innings. Harvey was 3-5 with the Angels in 2019, with an ERA of 7.09. Then came his stint with the Royals last season. Harvey came to the Orioles camp on a Minor League deal and finally made the team’s 40-man roster on March 25, two days before his 32nd birthday -- nearly eight years after that All-Star night when he followed Seaver to the mound at Citi Field.
There he was at Fenway, second game of the Orioles season, navigating a bunch of baserunners, throwing one inning-ending, swing-and-miss 94 mph fastball that got a fist pump out of his catcher Pedro Severino.
“[Harvey] showed the competitor that he is,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said later. “He’s throwing strikes, he worked ahead in the count, kept guys off balance.”
He's no longer the Dark Knight, just someone looking to build on good days like the one he had on Saturday in Boston. It was just one solid April outing. But maybe it was a start in more ways than one for Matt Harvey, as he does try to save his career. Maybe that’s why it felt like his first victory of the season.