Willingness and desire have made Matt Harvey must-see TV again
Pages eventually get turned. Especially in the long season of baseball. Even for Matt Harvey.
A month ago, not only was Harvey doubted for his ability to pitch in these most precious moments for a franchise starved for a controversy-free World Championship – not to mention merely a playoff berth – his willingness and desire to simply represent the team was in question.
But in late September, on a day the Mets could officially exorcise the demons of two collapses from years past, Harvey decided to put the fear of losing future dollars to bed and actually go earn them by taking the baseball and pitching the Mets to their first division title in nine long and very painful years.
It was that day he told Terry Collins he had had enough of the talk and the snickering and the public challenges about his own gut, will and desire.
It was that day he decided to pitch for his team, and win for his team.
Harvey went out a week later and ended up on the wrong side of a no-hitter at the hands of Max Scherzer and the Nationals, but his performance did not go unnoticed when he delivered six innings and merely allowed one unearned run.
That was a wrap on Harvey’s regular season. And despite the ups and downs, the public outcries to pitch more in May and to pitch less in September and October with doubts about his willingness to unify with his team, he completed a remarkably successful comeback season from Tommy John Surgery with a 13-8 record and a 2.71 ERA in 189 1/3 innings.
The baseball calendar then turned to the playoffs, the moments Harvey insisted back in spring training he could not only shine in, but could single-handedly put the team on his shoulders and ride the wave up the canyon of heroes.
It would be an opportunity for Harvey to show the world the size of his heart, the strength of his gut, and all of a sudden to prove once again he is the winning player the Mets were counting on during the regular year.
The latter had been significantly tarnished, whether it was true or not, whether it was fair or not, or whether it was caused by his agent or not.
But he has done all of that and more in his two starts in the playoffs. And his teammates have taken notice, too.
“Anybody that had any doubts about his toughness, about his desire to go out and pitch, should take notice tonight,” Michael Cuddyer said Saturday night about Harvey. “The guy’s a beast. The guy’s an animal. And tonight, he proved it. He wanted to be out there. He had that look in his eye tonight that he was going to dominate. And he pitched unbelievable.”
Cuddyer was referring to Harvey’s phenomenal performance in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs, a team the Mets had not beaten in 14 months. He allowed only two runs in 7 2/3 innings for the win.
Harvey felt a need to redeem himself after what he deemed as a poor start during the Division Series when he allowed three runs in five innings to the Dodgers in a 13-7 rout at Citi Field.
“After the first go-around, I definitely wasn’t happy,” Harvey said. “Obviously, we won. That was the most important thing. I think I said in the press conference [on Friday] that I really wanted to be back out there as much as I possibly could. Getting the ball the first game, I really wanted to start things off the right way and get us rolling.
“Fortunately enough,” he said, “I had things working pretty well.”
That was an understatement, especially early on.
Harvey retired the first 12 batters he faced with an assortment of electric fastballs, heavy curveballs, and power sliders, and remarkable efficiency through the first four innings.
“He threw the ball so well,” Daniel Murphy explained afterwards. “It was cool to see from second base because he kind of started with the changeup as the secondary pitch, and then the second and third time through, he’s going to the breaking ball. He did a great job keeping them off balance.”
He even had the Cubs marveled at his work on Saturday night.
Said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, ““Give him credit, because he had about as good of command as you possibly can of all his pitches. His stuff is always good, but the command was outrageous tonight.”
Harvey’s fantastic performance didn’t come without incident, however.
In the sixth inning, Dexter Fowler lined a comebacker off of Harvey’s right shoulder. But Harvey remained focused, found the ball and threw out the speedy leadoff hitter at first base.
Harvey refused to even talk about it with trainer Ray Ramirez and Terry Collins.
“The ball kind of dented my arm a little bit, got me right in the tricep,” Harvey said.
Harvey admitted his arm was swollen after the game. It remains to be seen how that affects his routine between now and his projected game five start at Wrigley Field.
But if what has been on display is any indication these days, not even a rainout would stop Harvey from taking the ball now.
And it’s that desire and dedication to make that trip up the canyon of heroes that makes Harvey must-see TV once again.