BALTIMORE -- This week, fans in orange and blue attire flooded through the now fully open gates of Camden Yards, having migrated down I-95 in numbers more typically seen from their Yankees-fan citymates. Their presence had two easy explanations: novelty and proximity, given how the Mets come to Baltimore so infrequently despite its relative closeness to New York. But there was also a deeper, more sentimental reason for their sojourn: Matt Harvey.
It was less than a month ago that Harvey, more than a half-decade removed from his superhero days in Queens, returned to pitch on the Citi Field mound for the first time. He was greeted warmly by the fans that once cheered him if not by the Mets themselves, who tagged Harvey for seven runs in a bittersweet showing that sparked a stretch of nightmare outings. Then Wednesday rolled around, providing Harvey an unlikely rematch and his former supporters a reason to show up at Oriole Park in droves.
On paper, it was a sequel. It played out like an encore. Harvey was responsible for the bulk of Wednesday’s 14-1 loss to the Mets, coughing up seven more runs in three innings. The effort elevated his ERA to 7.41, running the righty’s collective line to 14 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings this season against New York, for whom he started the 2013 All-Star Game and led to the 2015 World Series.
Harvey seemed invincible at times back then, starting in the Midsummer Classic at 24 and Fall Classic at 26, one of baseball’s headlining stars. He is 32 now, in Baltimore after years of injuries and ineffectiveness, his fifth team in four seasons, trying to prove he can be an effective big league pitcher again.
The irony lives in how large a hand his former team has played in undermining that goal this season. Harvey was a bright spot early in 2021 for the Orioles, posting a 3.60 ERA in his first seven starts. Then came his May 12 start in Queens. He’s pitched to a 14.19 ERA in six starts since, completing five innings in exactly none of them.
“It’s been a couple years now of being really [expletive],” Harvey said. “It’s frustrating. The amount of work I’m putting in in between starts … I was throwing 95, 96 mph tonight and I got hit around. Those are the tough ones."
The trouble for Harvey on Wednesday came early and often, much to the delight of the majority of visitors in the announced crowd of 9,584. Given a gift in Cedric Mullins’ sensational diving play on the game’s first batter, Harvey walked Francisco Lindor and served up a no-doubt two-run Pete Alonso homer in the bottom half of the first. The blue and orange masses roared.
Then, after Harvey needed just seven pitches to navigate the second inning, Jonathan Villar doubled into the right-field corner to lead off the third. Alonso blooped a single with one out, and both runners scored on RBI hits from James McCann and Billy McKinney. Harvey then grooved a 94 mph middle-middle fastball to Kevin Pillar, who pulled it into the left-field seats.
“He missed in the middle of the plate quite a bit,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
By the time Pillar raised his right arm rounding the bases, any lingering appetite for nostalgia in the visiting crowd had disappeared. Harvey watched the ball for a second, then turned toward home plate as pockets of “Let’s go Mets!” chants popped up around Oriole Park. They continued to exalt their team at various points throughout the night, as the Mets used four homers to pile on against the Orioles’ ‘pen.
“I play for the Orioles, so I’m not here for Mets fans,” Harvey said. “I appreciate the Orioles fans who were here and I unfortunately pitched like [expletive] and have to be better in front of my home crowd. I guess I just have to work harder.”
It appears he will be given the chance to. Harvey is far from the only member of the Orioles’ rotation to struggle behind John Means, and the unit is already shorthanded with Means on the injured list for an undetermined length of time. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ top prospects at Triple-A Norfolk have either just arrived there (Kyle Bradish), struggled at the level (Alexander Wells) or are in big league auditions of varying size (Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther). It would only take slight improvement for Harvey to achieve the primary role the Orioles took a flier this winter on him to fill, that being mainly to eat innings around their young staff.
Hyde was clear to tamp down any speculation of Harvey’s roster status postgame, stating bluntly: “There is no talk of taking him out of the rotation.”
Meanwhile, the extent of Harvey’s struggles continues to grow and confound all involved. Harvey and Hyde again pointed to his fastball velocity Wednesday as a positive sign, though both spoke harshly of his slider consistency and inability to locate. Even several Mets were complimentary, with manager Luis Rojas saying, “I thought his fastball was actually better than the outing he had in New York against us. It had some extra zip, and there were some really good sliders and really good changeups that he threw.”
“If I knew [how to fix it] I would’ve done it tonight,” Harvey said. “I definitely pitched pretty bad the last six starts. My job is to prepare and try to get better and whatever they decide, they decide. I’ve been released before. I’ve been through the whole situation. There really aren’t many in baseball I haven’t been through. My job is just to prepare and if they give me the ball, I will do everything I can between now and my next start to be better.”