By Sunday afternoon in San Diego, it had come to this for Matt Harvey, once as valuable a young pitching prospect as there was anywhere in big league baseball, one back-lit by the bright lights of New York City:
You found him, as he continues to try to find himself, pitching the ninth inning of a game the Mets were winning against the Padres, 14-2.
The day after that, I asked his general manager, Sandy Alderson -- who has seen Harvey at his best -- about Harvey's chances of pitching through his current circumstances, in the Mets' bullpen, and back into the starting rotation, where he began the season.
"Both [Mets manager] Mickey [Callaway] and [pitching coach] Dave [Eiland] believe he can pitch his way through this," Alderson said. "But [Harvey] is going to have to make changes in his delivery and his mechanics to do that."
Alderson paused and then said, "I'm not suggesting that [Harvey] isn't attempting to make those changes, by the way. But this is up to him."
Then Alderson was talking about "extension" and "up-and-down throwing" and what is working for Harvey right now and what certainly is not, which is how he ended up out of the rotation in the first place. And Alderson was saying that while being optimistic that Harvey, with the help of two of the best pitching minds in the business, will be able to figure things out -- though that doesn't necessarily mean he is confident that the 29-year-old right-hander will be able to figure things out.
"I hope he gets it back," Alderson said. "We all do. We all know what he could do a few years ago. He was extraordinary in that period of time. But, at least for now, he has become a cautionary tale about all young pitchers."
Harvey pitched well enough in Spring Training. He came out of the box in the regular season, and there was a night at Citi Field when he threw five one-hit innings against the Phillies and struck out five in the process. He did not throw as hard as he used to. But he seemed to throw hard enough. Then, quickly, he was off the rails. In his last start, against the Braves in Atlanta, Harvey gave up six runs in six innings and then afterward said this to the media:
"I'm a starting pitcher. I've always been a starting pitcher, and I think it showed in the fifth and sixth innings that I can get people out when my pitch count is up. ... I'm a starting pitcher."
But even Eiland, a tough, honest baseball man and a promising young pitcher himself once with the Yankees, said after that game that the innings before the fifth and sixth counted, too.
Maybe there was a time when Harvey would have been allowed to pitch his way through all this -- if he could -- before we even got to May 1. He was the Dark Knight of Gotham, after all. He was a comic-book hero and the pitcher who came along to give Mets fans hope; who had them talking about Harvey Day when it was his turn to start again; who gave them somebody they wanted to watch and, just as importantly, somebody they wanted to buy tickets to watch.
It is often pointed out that when the Mets made it to the World Series in 2015 for the first time in 15 years, Harvey was right in the middle of it all. On the night when the Mets were down three games to one against the Royals and trying to play their way back to Kansas City, Harvey got the ball and pitched the game of his life.
Even though it turns out that Terry Collins, the Mets' manager at the time, should have taken the ball away from him after eight innings and handed it to his closer, Jeurys Familia, he was as swept away by Harvey's talent, and carried along by the roar of a Mets crowd the way Harvey himself was that night, and had been as a kid. He left him out there. The Royals eventually tied the game in the top of the 9th and won the '15 World Series in extra innings.
In so many ways, it was Harvey's last real loud roar. He is 9-19 in his last 39 starts. He had a snappish encounter with the media the other day. Even in San Diego, he made the media wait around an hour to speak with him. He is about to become a free agent after this season. No one honestly believes any longer that he is pitching for his Mets career, which will likely end when this season is over. He is pitching to show the rest of the sport that he still has enough arm left, that he can pitch his way through this, and can figure things out and once again become what he asserts he is:
"It's really up to him," Alderson said.
Of course, Harvey doesn't have the kind of pitching portfolio of another veteran New York pitcher, Carsten Sabathia, who was a power pitcher when he was young. Sabathia was one of the best around, and he has reinvented himself into the thinker and offspeed specialist he is now, one who gives up as few hard-hit balls as anybody throwing these days. Not everybody can go from being a thrower to a pitcher, which is what Harvey -- who sometimes seems to be stubbornly holding on to what he was -- is now attempting to do.
I still think it is too early to write Harvey off, or worry about his timestamp. Everybody knows how much New York City in particular loves a comeback story like the one he is still trying to write. Still: You have to be realistic as well. You have to wonder that if Callaway and Eiland can't help Harvey, then who can?
Harvey has come back from two major surgeries, and he's still here. He is still young enough. The Mets are still giving him the ball. Last time was Sunday. In the ninth. When they were ahead, 14-2. For now, it had come to that.