Forget all that you know and all you have heard.
Specifically, forget any talk of shutdowns and innings limits, ignore any hastily thrown together PR rehab, pretend you don't know about his Tommy John surgery or his agent, and push off any conversations about trade rumors or 2018 free agencies.
To be blunt: for now, forget about all the bullshit.
Matt Harvey has thrown 427 innings in his professional career. He has posted a 2.53 ERA, a 2.65 FIP, and a 2.94 DRA. He has struck out 26.6 percent of the batters he's faced and walked 5.6 percent. Across his career, he has been as good as any pitcher in baseball not named Clayton Kershaw. Matt Harvey is an ace.
Matt Harvey also pitches for the Mets, so thus far he has had limited opportunities to demonstrate that in meaningful games or on a big stage. He started the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. That was nice. It was also an exhibition. You probably don't remember what his line in the box score looked like. You may remember how he pitched against the Nationals the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was his first start after all that stuff you were supposed to forget about happened. The Mets lead over Washington had been cut to four heading into that series. New York won a crazy one on Labor Day, giving Harvey the opportunity to deliver a staggering blow to the Nats division chances. It was clear he didn't have it early on, getting touched up for three runs in the first two innings before getting chased from Nationals Park after Yoenis Cespedes played a one- or two-run single into a Little League grand slam. That never made it into any leads though, because the Mets won an even crazier one.
After that game, the Matt Harvey story receded into the background. The talk of the town was the Mets cruising to an improbable NL East division title. Features started to pop up about the Mets deadline moves. There were whispers that Harvey might only pitch out of the pen in the postseason, or might only start once a series—and be hard-capped on pitches even then—but it was all drowned out by the exuberance of a fanbase and media that finally had a winner to enjoy and cover. When it was announced Harvey would start Game Three of the NLDS against the Dodgers, no one was that surprised, but with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard slated for Games One and Two, it just wasn't anything to get worked up over. Everything was house money.
Harvey didn't pitch terribly in Game Three. He just wasn't quite sharp, and some hard-hit balls in the second inning quickly took the wind out of a previously euphoric Citi Field crowd. We were still years away from a Clayton Kershaw narrative, and anyway, the Mets won the craziest—well if I'm honest it probably wasn't crazier than the two Nationals games, but Cespedes did do this. The Mets gutted out the series in five games behind some greatness and some guile from deGrom, and whatever the heck got into Daniel Murphy (at this point I will buy any explanation, no matter how ludicrous). But the team had to burn both deGrom and Syndergaard in the clincher, leaving Harvey to take the ball in Game One against the Cubs.
And we will get there I promise. It says so right in the title. But I need you to understand one more thing: Mets fans want very badly to cheer for Harvey unencumbered by all that bullshit I mentioned at the open. He was the opening salvo from the revamped farm system, the first indication that things were starting to turn for the organization. And it happened in a blink of an eye. One day he was a good prospect, a top 50 type. A fairly safe no. 3 who had a shot at being a good, durable no. 2 if the command tightened up and one of his two breaking balls got a little bit better. Then he stepped on the mound in Arizona and did this:
The Sports Illustrated covers, Jimmy Fallon sketches, and even a bit of nude modeling followed. A run at the 2013 Cy Young was derailed by a torn UCL and Mets fans had to muddle through another lost season in 2014 without #HarveyDay once a week. The anticipation for his first Spring Training start was palpable, the wait for his first 2015 start against the Nationals interminable.
Literally anything short of the Boras/Harvey camp's bizarre September media strategy and Mets fans would have continued to happily don their Dark Knight masks and cheer themselves into hoarseness for Harvey. That's a (rare) bit of canny marketing by the Mets, but the fanbase's love for Harvey is organic.
The media may be candid about how difficult he is to deal with, and he is probably not going to win any straw polls in the locker room right now for “best teammate,” but none of that would matter if Harvey could get the Mets a win out of the gate at home in front of 45,000 freezing Flushing faithful.
That inexplicable Arizona debut above was made possible by the sudden, rapid development of Harvey's hard slider, the first of the Mets young arms to take to the now-named “Warthen Slider." It was a bread-and-butter pitch for him in his breakout 2013 season, but he came out Saturday Night mixing in his curveball and his changeup much more frequently, and much earlier in the start than he usually does. It was very effective, as even dopes on twitter could see.
Early returns sure look like Super Shove Harvey at least.
Harvey retired the first 12 batters he faced as Citi Field got louder and louder. He battled with runners on base late getting big strikeout after big strikeout even after taking a hard comebacker off his right shoulder. He pitched into the eighth, went over 200 innings pitched for the season, and left the mound to a deafening and completely earnest ovation from the same fans who were a month ago calling for him to be traded to the Rockies this offseason (or the Solovki, whatever).
The best comparison I can come up with for an ace shoving in the playoffs, driving his team to victory in this high-stakes, high-leverage world, is a particularly beautiful, technically difficult aria in a language you aren't fluent in. There is no exquisite beauty that does not have some strangeness in its proportion after all. But I can tell you how Harvey did what he did last night. He has four plus pitches in his arsenal. His execution and sequencing of them were as good as any outing in his career when accounting for the weather conditions. Blowing three fastballs by Javier Baez with runners on was a particularly lovely bit of vibrato.
This start deserves to be admired free of context, free of twitter jokes about Boras getting on the phone from the office of the politburo as soon as Harvey took the ball off his pitching arm, probably free of strained opera metaphors, and definitely free of bullshit. And maybe even for a day we can hold off on the cynical takes that the only reason he is doing this now is because he has an insurance policy on his now-bruised right arm.
There will be plenty of time for context. No doubt all will eventually be revealed. But for one night in Queens there were just Mets fans screaming the name of their homegrown, beloved ace who pushed them all one game closer to a spectacular ending to an improbably season.
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