By Joe Rini
I began contemplating a Matt Harvey post at the beginning of this month but vacation separated me from my laptop for awhile so the post has been delayed. But in being delayed, it’s also changed.
Initially, it had the unlikely title, “Matt Harvey, 20 Game…Loser?” This was based on the fact that the Mets ace had the shocking record of 4-10 halfway through the 2016 season, thus if he continued at that pace over the next 81 games, yes, he’d have 20 losses. Who would’ve believed that Matt Harvey could join the ranks of 1962 Mets like Roger Craig and Al Jackson as 20 game losers before joining Seaver and Gooden as 20 game winners? Though the likelihood that Harvey’s season would end in 20 losses seemed less likely after some of his more recent outings, it was astounding to think the Mets had already lost 11 of his 17 starts in 2016 and was a compelling factor in the Mets trailing the Nationals in the NL East (that and the Mets letting Dan Murphy free to sign with the Nationals but that is a fiasco for a another post).
The tone of the post I contemplated changed after I covered the Mets game on July 2 and snapped this photo of Harvey walking off the field during pre-game warm-ups.
Call it a scowl, the game face of a fierce competitor, or maybe just my imagination, he didn’t have the look of a 20 game loser. It was the face of someone who was going to salvage the second half of his and his team’s season.
- Rick Aguilera, 37
- Jim McAndrew, 36
- Bartolo Colon, 36
- Roger McDowell, 33
- Pedro Martinez, 32
- Ray Sadecki, 30
Then came Harvey’s July 4th outing against the Marlins. Even during the brightest days of the Dark Knight’s tenure in Gotham City, the Marlins often seemed to nick up Harvey but on this day the Marlins carved him up for 6 runs and 11 hits before chasing him from the game after 3 2/3 innings. Harvey, who so often has seen deserved wins become no-decisions because of the Mets lack of offense, was rescued from loss number 11 because his teammates overcame a six run deficit and won 9-7. The outing blemished Harvey’s recent progress but he still had one more start against the Nationals before the All-Star break and set a positive tone for the last two months of the season.He had a next start until he didn’t.
- Nolan Ryan, 29
- Brett Saberhagen, 29
- Oliver Perez, 29
- Matt Harvey, 29
A few days after his start, it was announced Harvey was going on the 15 day disabled list with a right shoulder injury. However, rather than being related to his Tommy John surgery and subsequent innings limit soap opera last year, Harvey was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). The option to deal with TOS was surgery and Harvey later announced that he’d go ahead with surgery, bringing his 2016 to a shockingly sudden finish, like Eddie Futch not letting Joe Frazier come out for round 15 against Muhammad Ali at the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.
TOS doesn’t appear to be directly related to Harvey’s Tommy John surgery and his ensuing expanded workload in 2015 due to the Mets run to the World Series but his prognosis is precarious. Some pitchers aren’t able to return from this injury and even if they are able to pitch again, they don’t often return to their pre-surgery form.
So here sits Matt Harvey. It’s been just about four years since his celebrated debut in August 2012 and he’s done so much, yet so little, in a Mets uniform. He was the first of the highly anticipated young starters that the lowly Mets hoped would lead them to winning days and he didn’t disappoint. He showed promise at the end of 2012 and kept that promise in 2013 as he was knighted dark in a Sports Illustrated feature article and started the All-Star Game in his home stadium of Citi Field. Yet, his 2013 season was cut short in August and his 2014 never happened because of a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery. He made a triumphant return in 2015, won games in the NLDS and NLCS and would’ve had two wins in the World Series perhaps, if only, Mariano Rivera of 1999 was the Mets closer in 2015.
So here sits Matt Harvey with 29 career wins, 39th on the All-Time Mets win list by pitchers (source: Ultimate Mets Database at ultimatemets.com). When one considers the pitching brilliance of Matt Harvey, the excitement generated by Matt Harvey, and the soap opera dramatics surrounding Matt Harvey, it’s staggering to think it’s possible Matt Harvey could end his Mets career with the same 29 wins as Oliver Perez if the TOS situation doesn’t work out well. Thirty years after Dwight Gooden thrilled Mets fans, everyone regrets that he didn’t fulfill his Hall of Fame potential but he did win 157 games in a Mets uniform and pitched long enough for Mets fans to curse that he pitched a no-hitter as a Yankee and not a Met.
The ranking of pitchers from number 24 (Dillon Gee) to number 38 (Oliver Perez) is an eclectic mix of Cy Young Award winners (Viola, Saberhagen, and Colon), journeymen (Fisher, Lynch, and McAndrew) not to mention someone who had a a Hall of Fame career before he joined the Mets (Pedro Martinez), and one who had a Hall of Fame career after he left the Mets (Nolan Ryan).
Where will Matt Harvey fit onto this list? Will 2017 echo his triumphant return of 2015 or will his brilliance be in memory only? It’s anyone’s guess for the moment. The player I photographed on July 2 looks like he’ll come back strong but I hope that’s not my imagination talking.