The last time Matt Harvey pitched his way into the win column, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t exist. TikTok wasn’t cool. Zoom was just a verb, and not a particularly useful one. For the 2013 All-Star, the drought extended back into a world vastly different from the one we live in now.
That all changed on Tuesday, when Harvey notched his first victory in almost two years in the O’s 7-5 defeat of the Marlins at loanDepot park. Holding Miami to three runs over five innings, Harvey benefitted from early run support and a successful O’s bullpen, which held on to ensure Harvey’s first win as an Oriole, and his first win since July 13, 2019. Harvey entered play 0-5 with an 8.16 ERA in 11 games (eight starts) for three different teams since then.
“It’s been a while,” Harvey said. “I actually can’t even remember the last one I had. … With how last year went and not pitching very well, and getting a chance to come here and play, it means a lot. To be honest, I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen again.”
It happened Tuesday courtesy of a team effort, and despite one potentially-troubling development. The Orioles used an early two-run Rio Ruiz double alongside solo homers from Trey Mancini and Freddy Galvis to put a five-spot on losing pitcher Nick Neidert, shortly after losing slugger Anthony Santander to a left ankle sprain in the first. Spotted a big lead and coming off a start when he showed flashes of his old self, Harvey then grinded through five innings, working around eight hits but walking none. He improved to 1-1 with a 5.12 ERA in four 2021 starts.
“I thought it was gutty,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That was a gutty performance. Five innings, had traffic in four of them. He pitched out of innings well. His fastball command wasn’t as good as it has been. But he made pitches when he needed to and left with a 6-3 lead.”
A carousel of Baltimore relievers handled the rest, though Shawn Armstrong’s latest shaky outing (2 walks, 2 runs, zero outs recorded) allowed the Marlins to inch within one run in the sixth.
César Valdez’s four-out save made good on fine work by Adam Plutko, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, giving the O’s their seventh road win in 10 tries this season. They are 1-6 at home, where Valdez has only appeared twice. The soft-tossing righty is now 4-for-5 in save chances this year, with a 0.96 ERA in eight appearances.
“He’s the best,” Mancini said. “I love every time I see him coming in from the bullpen. He’s not your conventional closer, but that doesn’t matter at all. All that goes out the window when you get results. He makes a lot of guys look pretty silly up there.”
Perhaps it's fitting that it was Valdez, a 36-year-old journeyman who signed out of the Mexican League and thrives entirely on guile, who closed out Harvey’s milestone win. They are the antithesis of each other, in terms of both career trajectories and how they succeeded when at their best.
Harvey was a phenom, atop the baseball world at age 23, all those years ago with the Mets. Valdez got a cup of coffee at 25, spent seven years trying to get back to the Majors, then three more pitching internationally before returning again. Harvey is a former power pitcher attempting, at age 32, to reinvent himself with diminished stuff. Valdez throws almost exclusively changeups, slower than any other reliever -- nevermind closer -- in the game, and is the best version of himself right now.
Both are in Baltimore searching for second -- third? Fourth? Final? -- chances. And both are making something of them.
“How I was throwing the ball in Spring Training and the last couple outings, there was some hope it was coming back,” Harvey said. “It is a good feeling. There has been a lot of hard work put in, and it means a lot to get the first one out of the way.”