Remember last November when Matt Harvey was plowing through the Kansas City Royals in New York during the 2015 World Series? He was pitching on his biggest stage and having arguably one of the better starts of his young career. The fans in New York were rocking, Citi Field was loud, and the entire baseball community was in awe of the greatness that Matt Harvey was showcasing. As the 8th inning came to a close, there was uncertainty if Harvey would come back to pitch the 9th. Everyone, except his manager, wanted him to finish his brilliant game. After all, this was HIS night. This was HIS game. He’s NYC’s Dark Knight. For eight innings, he was the hero the Mets needed but didn’t deserve. You could see him arguing with Terry Collins during the bottom of the 8th, clearly begging to pitch the 9th inning. Collins didn’t want him to – he wanted to use his closer instead. But, against his better judgement, he let Harvey finish the game. When Harvey emerged from the dugout in the 9th inning, every fan in New York yelled and cheered at deafening decibels that perfectly encapsulated the grandiosity of the moment. Then, like how every Hollywood movie seems to end, the Royals shellacked him in the 9th, effectively erasing one of the most important and impressive starts we had ever seen from Matt Harvey. He stayed one pitch too long, pitching just long enough to see himself become the villain.
If there has ever been a game that could summarize Harvey’s short career, it would be that game. Harvey, to put it simply, is capable of being an ace, yet he has somehow never gotten there. He was the highly-touted pitcher who was supposed to save the Mets, the man who was supposed to lead a rotation. He was deemed the ace before he had a chance to prove himself worthy of the title. He was gifted with the spoils of being a superstar player in NYC before he had the chance to earn them. He got the girls (okay, the models), the best tables at the best restaurants, the fame, the glory, the most badass nickname…He had it all before he established himself as a proven ace.
But what happens when a burgeoning superstar has to struggle to earn the adulation? That’s exactly what Matt Harvey is trying to figure out right now. After posting yet another abysmal start (if you can even call 2 & 2/3 innings a “start”) last night, every sports writer worth his/her salt is wondering what is happening to Harvey. The Nationals spanked him for 9 hits and 6 earned runs, and almost all of the balls where hit hard. Yes, there were some serious defensive miscues (the Mets defense is a hot mess this year), but the bottom line is that Matt Harvey made terrible pitches, chose terrible pitches to throw, and missed his spots. Even Nats slugger Bryce Harper expressed that he felt bad for Harvey last night (you know it’s bad when the opposing team’s superstar feels bad for you).
Except it wasn’t just a problem last night: his whole season has been one long stretch of miserable starts. Barring injury, Matt Harvey has nothing and no one but Matt Harvey to blame for his shortcomings this year.
So is Harvey’s poor performance psychosomatic? Could it be all in his head? Is this a residual effect of him pitching over his 200 inning limit last year? Is there something wrong with him physically? He has been accused of being more out of shape this year, and perhaps that is part of the problem, but is it something more?
I personally think this stretch of bad starts is good for Harvey. To be blunt, he is a guy who needed to be humbled. I have to admit that I was always annoyed by Harvey because his attitude and behavior never matched the product he was putting on the field. He is a guy who’s reputation has always outpaced the results, and he certainly hasn’t made it easier on himself. He has been late for practice because he “lost track of time”. He has ignored his team’s and doctor’s orders about limiting his innings post-Tommy John. He has openly lived a lavish lifestyle while basking in the glory of the biggest media market in the country. Harvey has built himself up to be a baseball titan, and perhaps now the baseball gods are doing everything they can to humble him.
Now, Harvey will have to rely on his skill-set and pitching weapons instead of his reputation to prove he can be an ace pitcher. Hell, at this point, he should be gunning for the title of “second-best” pitcher on the team (Noah Syndergaard has claimed the title of “Best Pitcher” for the Mets and it’s not even close). Harvey will need to spend that extra time in the gym to prepare his body for the rigors of a full season. He will need to spend that extra time with the coaching staff to figure out what he can do to improve. Maybe he just needs to skip a start so he can get his head right. Regardless, Harvey is going to have to rely on more than his reputation to become to the hero New York needs. But, maybe this skid is the best thing that could happen to a man who acts like a superstar without the credentials, a man who acts like a superhero without a cape.
Baseball is humbling game and his manager stated it perfectly – “There are two kinds of people in this game: those who have been humbled and those who will be.”
Harvey needed to be humbled and, boy, is he getting a big piece of humble pie. But, hopefully he can take his pie, eat it, and get his groove back. When Matt Harvey is on, he is ON and a lot of fun to watch. Even the petty haters like me can’t hate on that.