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Dark Knight rises? 2018 a test for Harvey

MLB.com @MikeLupica

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In so many ways -- and not so long after he was nicknamed the Dark Knight -- Matt Harvey remains the most famous 34-35 pitcher in baseball, and maybe the most famous under-.500 record in the history of the Mets, whose fans once considered him the heir to Tom Seaver.

Harvey famously started the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. And it was just 2 1/2 years ago that in all the big ways he pitched the game of his life, also at Citi Field -- Game 5 of the World Series, with the Mets trying to climb out of a 3-1 Series hole and push the thing back to Kansas City. Harvey was both strong and brilliant that night, leading, 2-0, after eight shutout innings.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In so many ways -- and not so long after he was nicknamed the Dark Knight -- Matt Harvey remains the most famous 34-35 pitcher in baseball, and maybe the most famous under-.500 record in the history of the Mets, whose fans once considered him the heir to Tom Seaver.

Harvey famously started the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. And it was just 2 1/2 years ago that in all the big ways he pitched the game of his life, also at Citi Field -- Game 5 of the World Series, with the Mets trying to climb out of a 3-1 Series hole and push the thing back to Kansas City. Harvey was both strong and brilliant that night, leading, 2-0, after eight shutout innings.

Harvey was once again the Dark Knight, having a career night. And after throwing more than 100 pitches, he was able to make his best pitch to his manager.

"I told him ... that was enough. And he came over and said, 'I want this game. I want it bad. You've got to leave me in,'" Terry Collins said after the game. "He said, 'I want this game in the worst way.' So obviously, I let my heart get in the way of my gut."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Harvey gave up a walk to Lorenzo Cain and a double to Eric Hosmer. Then Collins went out to get him. Too late. The Royals tied Game 5 and ended up winning in the 12th inning, winning the World Series in the process.

And now hardly anything has gone right for Harvey since. He is 9-17 since that Sunday night at Citi Field. Harvey's ERA is 5.78. He has had surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (he previously had Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral nerve in his pitching elbow). Now Harvey is healthy again, if no longer the ace of the Mets staff or even close. He turns 29 in less than three weeks.

If Harvey stays healthy this season, we will begin to find out if he is a cautionary tale about big-city hype and expectations and the serendipity attached to a pitcher's career, or a tale of redemption.

Once, when Harvey was still the Dark Knight, Mets fans called the day or night of his start Harvey Day. On a staff on which Noah Syndergaard throws harder and Jacob deGrom wins more, it seems like one more distant memory for Harvey, and about him.

But Harvey says he is not worried about any of that; that getting fixed on the past, on his rise and fall and what he profoundly hopes will be another rise this season under a new manager and a new pitching coach, does not get him anywhere. Certainly, it does not help him get back to being a baseball star.

Here is what Harvey said Monday after his most recent Spring Training start -- three scoreless innings against the Tigers:

"I've made this comment before, I am not reverting to anything that is in the past, any mechanics or anything," Harvey said. "It's completely a new year, like I said. Mechanics are completely different; my arm is completely different."

Video: DET@NYM: Harvey discusses his scoreless outing

You could hear what Harvey was saying, loud and clear. But you can also hear his new manager, Mickey Callaway -- who was Terry Francona's pitching coaching in Cleveland and made a name for himself as someone who could work wonders with pitchers both young and old. If there is one thing that Callaway has preached since taking the Mets' job, especially with his pitchers, is the value of remaining in the moment -- that a common enemy of even the most talented pitchers is worrying about what just happened, or what might be about to happen.

"There is something to be said about staying in the moment," Callaway said the other day in his office. "That means whether you're doing your work or standing out there on that mound. You can't worry about the guy you just walked, or the hit that just dunked in front of the right fielder.

"It's not just Matt. It's everybody. You really can't worry about what happened in the past. You can't worry about some bad break you got, or even the good breaks you got. Matt's right. You also can't worry about what mechanics you used to have. Just continue to be athletic with your approach now. With the mechanics you've got now. With the pitcher you are now."

Once Harvey came out of the blocks in the spring trying to throw 100 mph, the way Syndergaard has already this spring. The other day against the Tigers, Harvey topped out at 96 mph, but mostly locked in at 92 or 93. His performance was uniformly described as being "solid." Everybody seemed happy afterward, including Harvey.

When Callaway was asked the other day how Harvey has looked, he said, "I honestly believe he's looked great."

Harvey has a chance to be a great comeback story if he can stay healthy. He has a chance to make the 2018 rotation, all those young arms still around, what it was supposed to be in 2017 before everybody started getting hurt. Harvey has a chance to pitch big and then make himself big money as a potential free agent.

Harvey is scheduled to pitch against the Yankees on Saturday in Tampa. Once, it would have been a rousing Harvey Day, even in the spring, and it makes you remember a regular-season Saturday he had once at Yankee Stadium in April 2015. Harvey dominated the Yankees all day long, all fastballs and swagger, ending his outing by throwing a fastball to strike out Alex Rodriguez in the ninth.

The Mets had lost the first game of that Subway Series on Friday night. Before Saturday's game, Ron Darling said, "You know what the Mets losing [on Friday night] did for him? It gave him the chance to come into Yankee Stadium and say to everybody, 'Don't worry. I got this.'"

I wrote after that game that I wouldn't trade Harvey for any other young starter in the game, and I meant that. That pitcher is gone. Still a Harvey Day on Saturday. Just a different kind of day. But maybe a new day, for the pitcher formerly known as the Dark Knight.

New York Mets, Matt Harvey