Matt Harvey returned to the mound at Citi Field on Wednesday, making his first appearance in Queens in just over three years. On May 3, 2018, Harvey pitched two innings in relief, surrendering five runs and three hits, in a 11-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves. When then manager Mickey Callaway came to the mound and took the ball from Harvey, a steady stream of boos rained down as the former Mets ace began the long, painful walk to the dugout.
Five days later, Harvey was traded to Cincinnati Reds.
Harvey and his former team look significantly different since then. Most of his former Mets teammates are long gone. Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia are the only players left from Harvey’s final days in New York (Dominic Smith, Robert Gsellman, Tomas Nido, Jeff McNeil, and Luis Guillorme were on the 2018 roster, but arrived after Harvey’s departure).
But beyond the change in complexion, not much — if anything — looked different when the man once known as the “Dark Knight” faced his former team under a well-lit sky at Citi Field. Harvey pitched into the fifth inning before Orioles manager Brandon Hyde finally pulled the plug. His final line: 4.1 IP/7 runs/8 hits and a 7-1 loss. Despite a standing ovation when he took the mound (and later when he batted), Harvey looked very similar to the pitcher that left New York three years ago.
In the week leading up to Harvey’s return to New York, Mets play-by-play broadcaster Gary Cohen described the intriguing matchup at Citi Field as “delicious.”
In hindsight, the performance was reminiscent of one of those overpriced, undercooked meals served at some swanky restaurant, where the small portions leave you hungry, unsatisfied and jetting off to White Castle after it’s over.
The 98-100 mile per hour fastball is gone. The hard slider that opponents often referred to as trying to hit a “bowling ball” is a thing of the past. The days of reaching back and just blowing a pitch past a hitter is gone too. The 2021 version of Matt Harvey today is completely different from the original iteration we watched dominate National League opponents over the first three years he pitched in Major League Baseball (2012, 2013 and 2015).
“I thought he was the second coming of Doc Gooden,” added Ron DeLaPena. “I was fully vested. ‘Harvey Day’ was a thing. I loved the Dark Knight nickname. He wanted the ball and he wanted to dominate. It’s a shame the injury killed his rise. With Doc it was drugs, with Harvey it was the UCL.”
Harvey is at his best when he’s changing speeds and working up and down and in and out of the strike zone. At age 32, his baseball career is in decline. Today, Matt Harvey is a middling option for most major league pitching staffs.
In New York, the rise is often fast and the fall is slow, steep and sometimes dramatic. As cliched as it may sound, only the strong truly survive and succeed. From his arrival (2012) to his exit (2018), Harvey pitched his way in and out of the Mets future and, ultimately, out of New York.
“Matt Harvey was a destination in 2012, 2013 and parts of 2015,” said Cohen on SNY Tuesday night. “The joy that he brought to Mets fans was palpable.”
For as good as he was over the first half of his tenure in New York, Harvey was equally as disappointing over the final two-plus years. “The disagreement on who’s to blame for his demise makes him polarizing,” wrote Dan Marrazza on Twitter. “Many blame partying for his demise. Others recognize that while old school folks want pitchers going nine innings, there’s consequences to pushing a pitcher 40 innings past his limit following Tommy John surgery.”
Injuries and self-discipline are fair attributes of Harvey’s demise. And, expectation.
An All-Star appearance, a near perfect game, ‘Harvey Day’ events and a splashy Sports Illustrated cover followed by a racy appearance in ESPN Magazine’s “Body Issue,” a torn UCL, Tommy John surgery, a missed season and the soap opera-like storyline of ups and downs throughout 2015, culminating with Harvey’s crescendo was on a cold November evening when he took the ball for Game 5 of the World Series at Citi Field — and refused to give it up until it was too late.
With the Mets leading 2-0 and three outs away from a win, Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain on a 3-2 pitch to leadoff the ninth inning. A stolen base by Cain and a double by Eric Hosmer hastened Harvey’s exit. The Royals would eventually tie and win the game, the series and put a bold and disappointing exclamation point on the end the Mets season.
The game. The inning. The pitch. We can now pinpoint precisely the beginning Harvey’s long two-year slide. It was the beginning of a story that reads like “a Greek tragedy in three acts: Too soon (fame). Too much (idolatry). Too close to the Sun. Gone too soon. The hero always dies in the final scene,” wrote @OriginalMetLady on Twitter.
Matt Harvey is the cautionary tale of Athlete vs. New York City. He was hope. He way joy in the eyes of Mets fans. In the blink of an eye, he was disappointment. He had it all, then he had nothing but a scattering of boos hanging in the air over Citi Field. On Wednesday, that big ball of emotion that was lingering in the hearts and minds of Mets fans was released in the form of cheers. For Harvey, it was a reprieve; a final chapter to unfinished story.
FAN REACTION TO MATT HARVEY
As a fan base, we bet on him with emotional money we didn’t have. When it didn’t work out we had to pay the shy after a couple of good beatings. It left a mark. But I’ll be there Wednesday and greet him respectfully before rooting like hell against him
— JD Devine (@JDDevine) May 10, 2021
Because he was so great for the Mets before his surgery, and afterwards his poor performances, off the field antics, and mishandling by the Mets org made him look like a spoiled brat who didn’t realize how lucky he was to be a MLB player.
— Shea Was Better (@SheaWasBetter) May 10, 2021
Unrealized potential! Not all his fault but early in his career he wanted to be another Jeter on and off the field but he seemed to take a few things for granted !
— Mike Mancuso (@Mikemancuso9) May 11, 2021
Since Dwight Gooden and to this day. He created a buzz in a city like no pitcher. It was Harvey day. He rejuvenated the team and fan base. His run was great. He was great. Harvey days were great. He risked it all for us. And he should always be remembered as a Warrior met.
— Degrando (@grando34) May 10, 2021
Dealing with a broken hearted is a part of being a Mets fan, but we don’t all deal with it the same way / in relation to the same players.
Harvey made Mets fans believe harder than we had for years, and then confirmed for all too many of us that we’re the idiots we know we are.
— PMW (@pm_waller) May 10, 2021
His story is a classic sports tale of highs, lows & a comeback. It’s also a sad tale of debilitating injuries & on occasion, poor personal choices. He was thrilling to watch in his prime with the Mets and I will never forget that. I wish him success…just not on Weds afternoon.
— maria mb18 ⚾️😷 (@mariamb18) May 10, 2021
He did great things in a Mets uniform but he was sometimes also an ass who caused distractions and seemed to at times lack self awareness. All in all I remember the good more than the bad and wish him well when not facing the Mets.
— Dan (@Pete_Alonso420) May 10, 2021
Rational fans view him as a flawed but uber talented pitcher whose body betrayed him, denying him stardom in our uniform.
Irrational fans view him as a failure or even a villain bc he didn’t reach their Seaver-level expectations of him.
— Mark Rawden (@rawdenm) May 10, 2021
MATT HARVEY CAREER TIMELINE
Harvey is four teams (Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles) and three years removed from his last appearance in New York, but just the thought of him returning to start against the Mets at Citi Field remains deeply intriguing.
JUNE 2010: The New York Mets select Matt Harvey with the 7th overall pick out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 2010 June Draft.
JULY 2012: Harvey makes his MLB debut vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (5.1 IP/0 ER/3 H/11 K/3 BB). He also went 2-for-2 at the plate.
MAY 2013: Harvey retired the first 20 Chicago White Sox batters he faced until Alex Rios broke up the perfect game with an infield single. Harvey left the game after nine innings, having surrendered only the one hit, as the Mets won in 10 innings.
MAY 2013: Harvey was the cover story in the May 20 edition of Sports Illustrated under the headline: “The Dark Knight of Gotham.”
JULY 2013: Harvey appears in ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body issue.”
AUGUST 2013: Harvey is diagnosed with a UCL tear that eventually leads to Tommy John surgery (October 2013).
2014: Matt Harvey is sidelined the entire 2014 season as he rehabs from surgery.
APRIL 2014: On the six-month anniversary of his Tommy John surgery, Harvey tweets out a picture of himself in the hospital giving the finger.
SEPTEMBER 2014: Harvey attends Derek Jeter’s final home game at Yankee Stadium. One teammate said it was “a little strange, but not surprising.”
SEPTEMBER 2015: Harvey won’t even commit to pitching through the end of the regular season — let alone the playoffs — citing the 180 innings limit suggested by Dr. James Andrews and Harvey’s
SEPTEMBER 2015: In a story published on The Players’ Tribune website, Harvey announces that he will pitch in the playoffs.
OCTOBER 2015: Harvey misses mandatory workout during the playoffs. The team initially blames tunnel traffic while Harvey ends up showing up at the end and saying he just lost track of time. The night before, Harvey reportedly was spotted out drinking.
NOVEMBER 2015: In Game 5 of the World Series, Harvey asks for the ball back in the ninth inning with the lead and Terry Collins agrees. The move backfires as Harvey gives up a walk and a hit before Jeurys Familia and the Mets defense finish blowing the lead, sending the game to extra innings.
MARCH 2016: Harvey throws shade at the New York reporters when he refused to speak with them after media coverage poked fun at him for a blood clot in his bladder.
APRIL 2018: Harvey’s pitching struggles continue and the Mets decide to demote their one-time ace to long relief in the bullpen. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m obviously a 10 of being pi— off. But my performance hasn’t been there. I just have to do whatever I have to do to get back in the starting rotation, and that’s right now go to the bullpen and work on some things.”
MAY 2018-MAY 2021: Since leaving New York, Harvey has pitched for four teams in four seasons — Reds (2018), Angels (2019), Royals (2020) and Orioles (2021) — compiling a combined record of 13-18 in 51 appearances (48 starts) with an ERA of 5.56.