The legacy of Matt Harvey is as fascinating as it is tragic. Once dubbed the Dark Knight of Gotham, Harvey fully engrossed himself into his comic book persona. By day he was driving expensive cars and dating super models. By night he was blowing away any batter unfortunate enough to face him. Ten years since his major league debut, Harvey may have hung up the cape and cowl, but in doing so has completely reinvented himself, potentially save his career in the process.
In 2010, Harvey was a junior at the University of North Carolina. As a pitcher, he was strong, had good mechanics and was as aggressive as can be. That summer, in a draft featuring future superstars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Mets went with Harvey.
One year later, he began a meteoric rise through the Mets farm system. Split between High-A and Double-A, Harvey was looking like an ace in the making. In 26 starts, he compiled a 3.32 ERA and 156 strikeouts. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider, he was promoted to Triple-A in 2012, making 20 starts before his time had come.
On July 26, 2012, Harvey got the call up to face the Arizona Diamondbacks. All the scouting in the world couldn’t have prepared anyone for what happened next. Suddenly, his mid-90s fastball was topping out at 98 mph, while his nasty slider became virtually unhittable. In one of the greatest Mets debuts ever, Harvey struck out 11 over 5.1 shutout innings.
Overall, Harvey made 10 appearances in 2012, compiling a 2.73 ERA with 70 strikeouts.
The Dark Knight
Having offered a teaser of his full potential, Harvey entered 2013 as a man on a mission.
Adding even more velocity, Harvey was at the top of his game. After making an absolute mockery of the Padres, Phillies and Twins in his first three starts, he returned to Citi Field on April 19 for a showdown with the Washington Nationals.
In one of the defining moments of his career, Harvey successfully outdueled Washington’s own young ace, Stephen Strasburg. As the “Harvey’s better” chants filled the stadium, there was a sense that this struggling team was on the verge of greatness once again.
While the Mets weren’t quite ready to contend yet, for once it didn’t matter. To fans, all that mattered was getting to enjoy “Harvey Day” every five days.
One month later, Harvey would grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, now bearing the moniker of the Dark Knight. While some nicknames can often feel forced or out of place, for the young stud of the Mets rotation, there was no title more fitting.
At the All-Star game that year, Harvey made sure that anyone who didn’t already know his name would soon never forget it. Firing two scoreless innings against the American League’s best, Harvey was simply unstoppable.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before disaster struck. On August 26, Harvey learned that he had a partially torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and would require Tommy John Surgery. He would miss the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014.
In 2015, Harvey returned more fired up than ever. While he was no longer the only big name in the Mets rotation, he was still the face of the team.
While not quite as sharp as 2013, Harvey was still as elite as they came, posting a 2.71 ERA. The Dark Knight still had it.
Then came the controversy. With one month to go in the middle of the playoff chase, Harvey’s agent revealed that he would soon hit his 180 inning limit. The news was massive, as it implied that if the Mets made the playoffs, Harvey wouldn’t be able to pitch. After much debate over the long and short term implications of his workload, both sides eventually agreed to lift the restriction.
It’s at this point that one begins to ask, “what if?” What if Harvey accepted the shutdown? Could things have been different?
Of course, no one cared at the time. Blowing past his limit, Harvey was electric during the playoffs. Winning both his decisions in the NLDS and NLCS, the only thing left standing in his way were the Kansas City Royals. Following a solid showing in game one of the series, Harvey got the call for game five.
With the Mets on the verge of elimination, Harvey put the team on his back and delivered a performance that should’ve gone down as the one of the best in World Series history. After throwing 102 pitches over eight shutout innings, his job was done. Up 2-0, manager Terry Collins was all set to move on to closer Jeurys Familia, but Harvey wasn’t having it.
Having begged his skipper to give him the ninth, Harvey ultimately got his wish. To spare everyone the harsh memories, things didn’t go as planned. Harvey and the Mets left the series empty handed: no trophy, no rings and no parade.
The Dark Knight Rises
Was it worth it? That’s the question everyone has asked at some point regarding the Mets decision on Harvey. Maybe if they won it all, things would be remembered differently. But that’s not what reality had planned.
By now everyone knows of Harvey’s rapid decline. Headlined by thoracic outlet syndrome, a series of health problems robbed him of everything that made him great. Coinciding with his on-field decline were several public missteps which served to only increase the growing resentment to the once beloved figure.
In 2018, New York traded Harvey. Bouncing around for a few seasons, he eventually wound up in Kansas City of all places. 2020 proved to be a new low for him as he produced a ghastly 11.57 ERA for the Royals.
The Dark Knight was broken.
Just when things seemed to be at their worst, something happened.
Suddenly, Harvey was raving about completely reinventing himself during the offseason. No longer trying to be the flamethrower he once was, now he was refining his mechanics through advanced analytics to become a new pitcher.
This wasn’t the first time a once great pitcher was hyping up a potential comeback. This time, though, it was different. Now 32 and competing as a non-roster invitee with the Baltimore Orioles, Harvey actually won a spot on the Opening Day roster as the team’s no. 2 starter.
No longer the Dark Knight and instead just a man, Harvey is pitching better than he has in years, sporting a 3.60 ERA. His triumphs this year include a tremendous effort against the Yankees in which he held them hitless through 5.2 innings.
Even with his newfound success, Harvey’s future is not certain. When dealing with a comeback story like this, however, who really cares about the future.
For now, he is prepping to return to Citi Field for the first time since 2018 to face the Mets on May 12. Even with his complicated legacy, Mets fans will no doubt give him a warm welcome, because wherever his career takes him, Harvey will always have a place in the hearts of the Mets faithful.
Image Courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images.
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