The end of the Matt Harvey era

The New York Mets DFA’d Matt Harvey on Friday. A team will take a chance on the once-adored starter, but his tumultuous Mets career has come to an unceremonious, ignominious end.

I first saw Matt Harvey in person in 2013. Harvey was 24 and making his 11th career start, his first of the season, on a frigid April night. Temperatures fell to the 30s with a blowing wind, something beyond brisk. So was the game, a two-and-a-half hour tilt against the San Diego Padres, a game whose bustling pace was set on that blustery night by an incredible Harvey display. He threw seven shutdown innings, surrendering just one hit and striking out 10.

I saw Harvey without intention that night. Somehow, I got a hold of two opening series tickets and went for no other reason than I had them. I didn’t go to a frosty baseball game being played way too early because Harvey was pitching; I stayed because he pitched great.

Understand what 2013 and the years around it were for Mets fans: it had been five years since the team last contended for the playoffs; two of their better performers were either allowed to walk or traded the offseason after award-winning individual performances (Jose Reyes won the batting title in 2011 and went to the Marlins in free agency, while R.A. Dickey was traded to the Blue Jays after winning the Cy Young in 2012); and ownership was presumed broke in the half-decade after they fell victim to Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme. The starting outfield that April night was Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd. There wasn’t a lot of hope in Flushing. So when a proper audience took note of Harvey, hyperbolic expectations followed. I remember leaving that game without feeling in my toes and a bittersweet taste in my mouth: I knew Harvey was special; I expected the Mets would lose him one day because their defrauded owner wouldn’t be able to match what someone else would pay him.

The actual end to Matt Harvey’s time as a New York Met was equally bittersweet but completely different from what I once thought it would be. On Friday, New York DFA’d Harvey after he refused to take a minor league assignment. Harvey had been moved to the bullpen already this season, and he wasn’t thrilled about it. This was one demotion too many for him to stomach. It was a surprising—if not particularly shocking—bookend to the Matt Harvey years in Mets’ history:

At some point in the last few years, this version of the story’s end became a distinct possibility.

When Matt Harvey was good, he was great. In 26 starts in 2013—his All-Star season—he posted a sub-2.30 ERA, a league-leading FIP, a sub-.9 WHIP, a 6.5 fWAR, and bagged nine wins on the way to a top-five Cy Young award finish. Harvey started the 2013 All-Star Game in his home park, the kind of pride-inducing coincidence that a Mets fan would still think an impossibility had it not actually happened.

2013 was his best season. It oddly makes sense that was the year ended by Tommy John surgery, the procedure that would dominate the discussion around Harvey for the rest of his time as a Met. Harvey missed all of 2014 but was a key contributor during New York’s surprise World Series trip the following year.

2015 also produced Harvey’s most infamous moment.

In his first full year after Tommy John, Harvey logged 189 regular season innings. But when the Mets made a deep postseason run, Harvey was asked to do more despite the consternation of his agent, Scott Boras. How to use Harvey through October was a constant talking-head debate. Ultimately, he pitched a lot, adding about 27 more innings to his total. And he pitched well enough in his only postseason run in New York. Game Five was where the best and worst of Matt Harvey’s tenure mingled. If it is his most-memorable outing as a Met, it’s unfortunate that the first eight full innings won’t be thought of as often as the ninth.

It’s the game Harvey talked himself into one more inning. Harvey shut down the Royals for the first eight frames. He should have been done after retiring Ben Zobrist. Instead, he worked his way back to the mound for the ninth, making an animated case to manager Terry Collins to finish the game. Harvey couldn’t close the door and when he was pulled for Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer–who deserves scrutiny for his role in the Mets’ World Series failure–was brought into an impossible save situation. Kansas City rallied and won the World Series later that night.

At the moment before Kansas City came back, Harvey’s fiery competitiveness was lauded.

Harvey stayed in too long; so did Pedro Martinez in 2003, but no one remembers that in the same way: Pedro and the Red Sox won it all the next year. In contrast, it was the wrong decision in its time, and it has aged poorly since. For one, starting pitchers don’t get used that way anymore. No one is talking themselves back to the mound, least of all your third-best starter, which Harvey was in the 2015 playoffs. But also, it clearly signaled the decline that would end Harvey’s Mets career: he was still as eager and competitive as ever, but his actual ability stopped measuring up to his own perception.

The last two years have been abysmal for Harvey. A smattering of obscure injuries cost him time. The implication was that the injuries and the innings toll from 2015 cost him velocity. When the flamethrower’s fire dimmed, there were plus-6 ERA’s and sub-7 K/9’s left over.

This spring started with hopes of a return to form (or at minimum, something close to it), but it was predicated on finding velocity. Harvey’s has steadily dropped since 2013 and after a month of the 2018 season, the Mets clearly didn’t think highly enough about what was recoverable to give up a big-league spot for the salvage job. Harvey has his own reasons for rejecting the Triple-A option: he and his camp don’t see it as the best route to being an MLB starter again, which he confidently believes he still is. He’s doing what’s best for him. Whatever it is, it is the end of an era.

Matt Harvey will find another job. It’ll be labeled a reclamation project by pretty much all of sports media, and it might actually work. The Dark Knight might actually rise.

An era is what Mets GM Sandy Alderson called it. The term is a baseball specialty—just about every collection of consecutive years with an interesting thread becomes one. But Matt Harvey’s tenure in Queens had many distinct features: it was a time of success and promise; of old-school grit and irrational confidence; of brief flirtations with newsstand celebrity; of stunning trades and playoff trips. Of cautious highs and dread-confirming lows. Calm and tumult, often on the same day. Big contracts and in-season cuts.

And it’s over.

Khurram “Mitch” Kalim is the Senior Writer for Bronx to Bushville. Vote Haniger for the 2018 ASG.

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