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Return of the Mets' 'Dark Knight'

Harvey showing signs of promising comeback season
MLB.com @MikeLupica

This wasn't a Harvey Day at Citi Field, a Harvey Day out of Matt Harvey's past. This was just a big night for Harvey on Tuesday, a mean, cold night in the first week of April, Harvey's first start in a season that only means everything to him, and not just because he is approaching potential free agency. Harvey wasn't everything he used to be against the Phillies, back when they called him the Dark Knight of Gotham. But he was still something. It wasn't nothing.

Harvey doesn't just have the chance this season to be a good Mets story, and a good New York story about a guy who used to be a star getting back up. This has a chance to be a great baseball story, about a kid who once had as much fastball as anybody, and had New York, and lost them both, and now tries to get them back. And come back.

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This wasn't a Harvey Day at Citi Field, a Harvey Day out of Matt Harvey's past. This was just a big night for Harvey on Tuesday, a mean, cold night in the first week of April, Harvey's first start in a season that only means everything to him, and not just because he is approaching potential free agency. Harvey wasn't everything he used to be against the Phillies, back when they called him the Dark Knight of Gotham. But he was still something. It wasn't nothing.

Harvey doesn't just have the chance this season to be a good Mets story, and a good New York story about a guy who used to be a star getting back up. This has a chance to be a great baseball story, about a kid who once had as much fastball as anybody, and had New York, and lost them both, and now tries to get them back. And come back.

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Harvey pitched five innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies. He struck out five, he got a lot of swinging fastball strikes. Harvey gave up just one hit. He didn't get the win. The Mets did later. And if you knew nothing about everything that has happened to Harvey over the past few years, about a fall from being the Mets' ace that sometimes seems as drastic as a fall right off the New York City skyline, you would have thought he looked a lot like the hot kid he used to be, just a little older now, and perhaps wiser.

Video: PHI@NYM: Harvey freezes Altherr for first K of season

Maybe Harvey doesn't have the arm he used to have, when he could throw a baseball almost as hard as Noah Syndergaard does now. He didn't chase 100 mph on Tuesday night, which would have been nuts, just because of the conditions, as if the Mets were playing another Winter Classic the way they did in hockey earlier this year. Harvey was mostly in the low-90s. It was plenty. He showed you plenty of arm in his first five innings of the regular season, which is going to tell us all plenty about what kind of career he still might have in the big leagues.

Not the Dark Knight. Just a very, very good night. And good beginning. Somebody else -- Syndergaard, known far and wide as Thor -- is the new comic book superhero at Citi Field. But Mickey Callaway, Harvey's new manager, couldn't care less about what kind of superhero Harvey was in Gotham. Callaway doesn't care what kind of stuff Harvey used to have. Just the stuff he has now. Callaway knows that if Harvey and Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are all blessed with good health, the Mets can be really good this season.

"From everything we witnessed from Matt throughout spring training," Callaway said on Wednesday morning, "we felt good things were coming and he'd be ready to go. What I'm really seeing is that his confidence has returned. He's always had the tools to compete."

It is just one start, and 86 pitches, after a solid Spring Training, one Callaway fully anticipated from Harvey in the first week of pitchers and catchers in Port St. Lucie. I sat with Callaway early one morning, at a Starbucks just up the road from First Data Field. One of the first questions I asked was about Harvey.

Video: PHI@NYM: Callaway on Harvey's strong start in 2-0 win

"Matt Harvey," Callaway said, "looks strong."

You always ask if he looks as strong as he used to, when he used to dare Major League hitters to hit his fastball.

Callaway smiled broadly.

"I'm not managing the other seasons," he said. "I'm managing this one."

It was a theme for the pitcher as well. Harvey spent the spring saying he didn't want to talk about the past, and it was a smart play from him. The job for him is trying to have the future we once thought he would have, when no one in New York City dreamt that by the time he turned 29, which he did a week or so ago, that his lifetime record would be 34-35.

"Obviously going five innings, not giving up a ton of runs is definitely a plus," Harvey said after the game Tuesday. "Just knowing that I'm healthy, go out there and I'm not in pain. No issues."

There have been other issues with Harvey, of course, that involved bright lights and the big city. But when he talks about having good health this season, he sounds like Tiger Woods sounded at Augusta National on Tuesday, talking about his own good health these days. Woods has had more surgeries than Harvey, a record number of surgeries in a non-contact sport. The most invasive and serious have involved his back. Harvey, a pitcher, has had big surgeries on his elbow and shoulder before he is 30. Both of them, though, one of the best golfers of all time when he was young, and young guy we thought might be one of the best Met pitchers of all time, have learned the hard way about how all athletes, whatever their sports, operate on a fault line, no matter how vastly different their athletic resumes might be.

Harvey got full of himself, because that's how it happens in the big city. We in the media did absolutely nothing to stop him. I've said before, there was a time when you wouldn't have traded Harvey for any young pitcher in the game, just because of all the upside. Then things went the wrong way. Surgery on the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow. Surgery for something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Now he tries to come all the way back from all of it.

There are so many fascinating individual narratives in baseball this season, and every season. None more fascinating than the journey of Matt Harvey. Sunday night, he is scheduled to pitch against the Nationals on Sunday Night Baseball. Another big night for the guy who used to be the Dark Knight. They're all big now, if not exactly the way they used to be.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

New York Mets, Matt Harvey