I clearly remember Bob Murphy opening the broadcast of September 27, 1998, from Atlanta by expressing his conviction that “there are days in your life…and this is one of them.” Made all the sense in the world to me. Too bad the Mets didn’t receive his message. They went out on that most urgent of days, which required a win to remain alive in their playoff chase, and lost.
Alas, some days in our lives are better than other days. Some days deserve to be upper-cased into Days. There’s Opening Day, of course, on which the Mets have won a baseball game almost every year since 1970. There’s Closing Day, an occasion I haven’t missed since 1995. There’s Hump Day…guess what the Mets’ record was on Hump Day in 2013…guess what their record WAS (12-12: not stuck behind the hump but not really over it, either). The Mets’ very first game — 4/11/1962 — was played on a Hump Day. The Mets’ very first division title — 9/24/1969 — was clinched on a Hump Day. The Mets’ most recent postseason victory — 10/18/2006 — was attained on a Hump Day.
Do not underestimate Hump Day.
There was Montreal Expo Boots Day, whose 1972 Topps card I’m pretty sure I’m still getting every time I open a pack. There was latter-day Montreal Expo Zach Day, who won four of five career decisions against the Mets. There was actress Laraine Day, whose marriage to Leo Durocher lent an extra dollop of glamour to the final decade of the New York Giants.
If you’ve watched your Mets Yearbooks carefully, you know not just about Banner Day and Helmet Day but Dairylea Day and Variety Day. If you go way back, you might remember that it was on Rheingold Day in 1963 that Homer the beagle, the Mets’ first furry mascot, set out to run the bases only to forget to touch third; he romped directly from second base, over the mound, and into the waiting arms of his trainer at home plate, a trick even Marvelous Marv Throneberry never tried with Gus Mauch. Or perhaps you recall Thanks Rusty Day in 1986 when the pending world champs honored their recently retired comrade by donning orange fright wigs and visors bearing the logo of Rusty’s restaurant. As day turns inevitably into night, you can’t beat the Day portion of the day-night doubleheader of June 27, 2008: Mets 15 Yankees 6, Carlos Delgado driving in a team-record nine runs.
Ontario’s own Bryan Adams referred to the summer of ’69 as “the best Days of my life,” and he wasn’t as much as summering in the Hamptons that year. Those were the Days — Mary Hopkin (and perhaps Bobby Pfeil) thought “they’d never end.” And let us not forget how we were “so in phase,” not to mention “cool on craze” in our “dance hall Days” a good two years before Wang Chung turned their attention to the fun everybody should be having tonight but right in step with when the Shea craze of hanging K’s for Dwight Gooden was clearly in phase.
Add to these very special Days a subset of much of more recent vintage. Put a circle around them and pray, secularly or otherwise, for their eventual return circa April 2015. We can’t have them in 2014. We reveled in them in 2013. All 27 of them as taken together were the best Days of our year.
Our Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2013 — the award bestowed to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or in this case transcends the year in Metsdom — is Harvey Day. Amid the muck of five muddled months when one week felt pretty much like another (and the season as a whole resembled far too strongly those directly preceding it), Harvey Day was a Day in a league of its own.
New York Mets baseball in the post-Shea era has been a stubbornly tepid affair. Harvey Day, though, ran hot every time its number came up. It was a phenomenon that felt unprecedented in franchise history. The Mets had sent to mounds excellent pitchers before. Tom Seaver authored one of the great pitching careers of all-time from his Roosevelt Avenue office. Dwight Gooden crafted one of the great pitching seasons ever (and was known to electrify his share of Friday nights). R.A. Dickey gave great narrative.
But who before Matthew Edward Harvey ever had his own Day? And how is it we all knew from the get-go to observe Harvey Day as a shared civic celebration?
Matt Harvey was promoted to the big leagues in July 2012. He started 10 games. His performance was very promising and tugged at the Mets fan imagination to conceive of what might be in 2013. Still, I don’t remember any of his rookie starts being granted Day status. Yet come April 3 of this year, it was as explicit as it was viral. It was Harvey Day, the first of not quite enough to come but plenty to gorge on anyway.
Harvey Days: the feast days for the Mets fan soul. Let’s pick at the succulent leftovers and hope they sustain us until the kitchen’s open again.
HARVEY DAY THE 1ST: April 3 vs. San Diego
So damn cold (44 degrees). So damn windy (21 MPH). So damn doesn’t matter this…whaddaya know…Hump Day. The first seven pitches produced seven Friars swinging through these December-like conditions. All those Padres bats did, though, was contribute to the wind chill. Matt Harvey’s first three innings were perfect. The next four were close enough. The scoreboard generated a SEVEN NATION HARVEY graphic that wouldn’t be seen again this year. The sound system repeatedly blared the U2/Jay-Z mashup of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Matt’s entrance tune of choice, whenever he ended an inning in strikeout style. That would be heard a lot as 2013 wore on. In all, Harvey threw seven innings, struck out ten, heated the frigid Citi Field night with a 97-MPH fastball that set up an 8-4 victory and allowed two walks and one single…or as many singles as he accounted for batting. The pitcher did not accept an additional layer of clothing when he became a baserunner. “I like to play baseball, and, in my mind, a jacket doesn’t belong on a baseball field.” In our minds, Matt Harvey (1-0) belonged at the front end of all pitching conversations.
HARVEY DAY THE 2ND: April 8 at Philadelphia
It’s the first hint of a showdown in Harvey’s young career: the phenom takes on an old master. Roy Halladay, however, is not physically up to the task this Monday. He gets rocked. Harvey rocks on: another seven innings, another nine strikeouts, another victory (7-2) to place aside an ERA that checks in at 0.64. “When you face Doc,” Matt says of his Cy Young-certified competition, “it’s something special.” We’re assuming that’s a line other pitchers will be spouting in deference to Harvey soon enough.
HARVEY DAY THE 3RD: April 13 at Minnesota
What could warm a Mets fan’s heart more than a Saturday afternoon in April in Minneapolis? As long as you weren’t actually sitting at Target Field, this 35-degree Harvey Day was the hottest stuff yet. Matt no-hit the Twins through six innings. It was an erstwhile Minnesotan who removed “first no-hitter” from the Metropolitan bucket list, but still, who wouldn’t want Harvey to also achieve the heretofore purely fantastical feat in his 13th major league outing? Well, Terry Collins could have done without the question shifting from theoretical to pressing given his pitch-count anxieties with Johan Santana the previous June 1. It never became an issue in this 4-2 win once Justin Morneau shot a slider off the right field foul pole with two out in the seventh. Matt wound up going eight, giving up two hits, walking two and moving with ease to 3-0. As for failing to pitch the second no-hitter in New York Mets history, Harvey promised, “I’ll be pushing for another one.”
HARVEY DAY THE 4TH: April 19 vs. Washington
If he wasn’t exactly baseball’s best-kept secret before the Mets returned from their Arctic World Tour (a.k.a. Minnesota and Colorado), this Friday night at Citi Field marked Matt Harvey’s no-turning-back coming out party. It kind of did the same for Citi Field itself, which had never much threw off sparks for a ballgame whose stakes weren’t evident going in (R.A. Dickey’s 20th) or coming out (Santana’s no-hitter). Tonight, the Citi did not sleep. Starting for the visitors was Stephen Strasburg, the Matt Harvey of 2010. A paid attendance announced reasonably accurately at 26,675 responded to the matchup the way Mets fans always did at Shea when trying to change perceptions. They let Strasburg know he wasn’t all that — and that Matt Harvey surely was. Harvey’s seven four-hit, three-walk, one-run innings were fairly par for the course (save for a rare bases-loaded jam from which he wriggled with minimal scarring). The crowd, however, was off the charts. Somewhere in the sixth, as the Mets were providing Harvey insurance runs, Strasburg was informed that despite his reputation and slightly longer résumé, “HARVEY’S BETTER!” It was repeated relentlessly for emphasis, as if a spiritual successor to 1969’s “GOODBYE LEO!” had been uncovered. Harvey, 4-0 with an ERA still bubbling under one, was indeed better, at least in this 7-1 Metropolitan conquest of the Nationals. Based on early returns, he shaped up as the best pitcher and potentially the brightest star in the entire sport. “It was nice,” was how the kid from Connecticut downplayed his entrance into the Strasburgian stratosphere, cautioning, “We’ve got a long way to go.” Every Mets fan sure as hell hoped so.
HARVEY DAY THE 5TH: April 24 vs. Los Angeles
Harvey Day was now officially A Thing. The Mets made it so with their first Mattcentric ticket offer: $45 for a left field Field Level ticket and a t-shirt imploring the stadium to STAND UP FOR HARVEY. Alas, it was a Wednesday night more suited to bundling up for warmth. Matt left on the losing side of a 3-1 score after six. It was the first game of 2013 when he wasn’t lights out, yet he held the Dodgers mostly in abeyance until the sixth when Matt Kemp took him deep. Even when not at his most effective, Harvey struck out seven in six, or as he put it to reporters afterwards, “In my mind, I sucked. And I have to be better.” It was a callback to every start of his rookie year when anything less than a perfect game galled the kid. As it happened, Harvey learned baseball’s a team game. David Wright took him off the hook with a game-tying single in the ninth and Jordany Valdespin made the Mets 7-3 winners on a walkoff grand slam in the tenth.
HARVEY DAY THE 6TH: April 29 at Miami
Superman meet Kryptonite. For reasons unknown to science, Matt Harvey had more trouble against the Miami Marlins than any other team in 2013. He threw 121 pitches, he didn’t make it out of the sixth and he gave up seven hits in the process of not devouring the fifth-place Fish. Yet, because he was Harvey and this was 2013, he left with a 2-1 lead. There would be no Monday night win for either the pitcher or the team, however, as the Marlins forged a ninth-inning comeback and outlasted the Mets in fifteen. Kryptonite couldn’t fully take super Matt’s measure, however. For his collected work across six April starts — 4-0, 1.56 ERA, 46 SO in 40.1 IP — Harvey was named the National League Pitcher of the Month. Nobody could be heard crying for a recount.
HARVEY DAY THE 7TH: May 7 vs. Chicago (A.L.)
If April amounted to a month of Harvey Days, what would May bring? Near flawlessness, it seemed one week in, whether judged by his budding romance with international supermodel Anne Vyalitsina or his first home Interleague start. The White Sox’ first-ever visit to face the Mets in Flushing flirted with monumental. It wound up settling for epic. Twenty batters wearing Chicago uniforms came up, twenty batters went down. Then, with two out in the seventh, Alex Rios grounded a ball deep to Ruben Tejada’s right. He got to it, he threw it to first and…it wasn’t quite in time. One stinking infield hit marred nine otherwise spotless innings. There were no other hits. There were no walks or errors or hit batsmen. Just Rios left to rot on first after he broke up what seemed destined to become the First Perfect Game in New York Mets History. It didn’t occur, yet Harvey kept on happening. The next Sock up, Adam Dunn, swung and missed on a one-two pitch to end the seventh and thus turn Rios into the Sox’ only LOB of the night and himself into Harvey’s tenth Tuesday K. When regulation was over, Matt had a dozen strikeouts and absolutely no runs scored on his behalf (Jersey native and Mets fan Hector Santiago was pretty sharp in his own right for Chicago). But he was deemed done after 105 pitches of the 0-0 battle. One tidy Bobby Parnell inning of relief allowed Mike Baxter to drive in the winning score in the tenth. Harvey’s ND, however, was the game’s and probably the season’s signature accomplishment. To find a more all-around overwhelming nine-inning Met starting pitcher performance, per Bill James’ Game Score metric, you had to reach back to October 6, 1991, when David Cone struck out 19 Phillies. To find a pitcher with as many as 125 strikeouts and no more than 25 earned runs in his first 17 career starts, per Elias, you could look only to Harvey. He was proving unprecedented in his dominance. Even the pitcher’s chronic self-criticism was curbed for an evening. “Obviously,” Matt said, “everything was working.”
HARVEY DAY THE 8TH: May 12 vs. Pittsburgh
Harvey’s stupendous story had to share baseball-narrative space with that of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were making their own slice of history in 2013, aiming for their first winning season in 21 years. On this Sunday afternoon, their tale took precedence, with a 3-2 victory earned against Scott Rice. After going 4-0 in his first four starts, Matt had suddenly been left no-decisioned in his next four. He certainly kept his team in the game, going seven and allowing only two runs, but it was his first outing of the year that verged on the ordinary; even his struggle against the Marlins was noteworthy for showing how good he could be was when he wasn’t that great. It was also the first time that Mets fans had a different storyline than Harvey Day to consider as their man pitched. This was the weekend when Valdespin homered and hot-dogged in a blowout loss (Friday), was plunked with the Mets’ implicit blessing in another blowout loss (Saturday) and let it be known he wasn’t too happy with any of it. For what it was worth, Harvey, without making a big whoop of it, let a pitch get away and hit the Bucs’ Michael McKenry in the fourth inning Sunday.
HARVEY DAY THE 9TH: May 17 at Chicago (N.L.)
The Sports Illustrated cover hex is one of athletics’ most cherished myths. Matt Harvey became one of its most authoritative debunkers immediately after fronting the May 20 issue (where he was dubbed “The Dark Knight of Gotham,” giving him a second nickname on top of “The Real Deal,” which was coined within an enthusiastic @DocGooden16 tweet). Harvey’s first post-cover start was also his first visit to Wrigley, and after a rough first inning — three consecutive hits culminating in two Cub runs — he essentially tangled his opponents in ivy across a lively Friday afternoon on the Near North Side. Matt made it to one out in the eighth by giving up only two more singles; he nursed a 3-2 lead he himself built with a tie-breaking RBI in the seventh. It was classic “helped his own cause” stuff and, combined with the old saw about getting to a great pitcher early or not at all, it stood up for Harvey’s fifth win against zero losses. “This guy,” Collins emphasized by way of understatement, “is different.”
HARVEY DAY THE 10TH: May 22 vs. Cincinnati
A two-run third-inning blast from Joey Votto was a bad sign. A string of three singles in the seventh could have been fatal. It wasn’t Harvey Day like it oughta be this Wednesday afternoon, yet the Mets battled back just enough to keep their ace out of the loss column. The eventual 7-4 defeat went on Parnell’s ledger. Still, there were uncommon quantities of runs (four) and hits (nine) charged to Harvey. “It was not like they crushed him,” said catcher John Buck. And it’s not like they beat him, either…but Harvey Day had seen better days.
HARVEY DAY THE 11TH: May 28 vs. New York (A.L.)
Matt Harvey’s childhood favorites provided the opposition in the second game of the revamped weeknight Subway Series. The fuss that had become customary when the 24-year-old righty was growing up in awe of the other New York team had receded, yet as the abbreviated home half of the four-game intracity tussle ensued, the not quite 32,000 on hand this Tuesday understand what the current wave of hype was all about. Harvey was magnificent in defusing the Bombers: six mostly scattered singles, ten strikeouts, no walks. Matt left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, trailing 1-0. On came one of the stalwarts from Harvey’s era of Yankee-rooting, Mariano Rivera, making his final regular-season Citi Field appearance. In a shock to the Subway Series system (even if something like it had happened a couple of times before), the great Rivera found himself up against the third rail of the Met lineup in the ninth. Daniel Murphy doubled, Wright singled and Lucas Duda singled. Within nine pitches of entering the game, Rivera was the loser; the Mets, en route to a four-game, two-stadium sweep, were 2-1 winners; and, with the Empire State Building about to be bathed in orange and blue, Harvey — his ERA down to 1.85, his strikeouts up to 84 after 78 innings — was entitled to stand as tall as the recently topped-out One World Trade Center.
HARVEY DAY THE 12TH: June 2 at Miami
“I wish we could score some more runs while he’s out there and get him some wins,” David Wright said of Matt Harvey when Harvey had to accept a sixth no-decision in seven starts after the Yankee game. Well, the Mets put six on the board for Matt in five innings at Miami in his next start. And Harvey left as the pitcher of record on the winning side, leading 6-4. But all the Mets’ hitters and all the Mets’ runs couldn’t put a win together this Sunday. The bullpen fell apart, leading to an 11-6 Met loss, but honestly, Harvey couldn’t complain about this W getting away. When you give up four runs, ten hits and two walks in five innings, an ND — especially against your mystifyingly vexing 16-41 nemesis — doesn’t look so bad. “I’m not happy about the start at all,” Harvey declared after his ERA rose over two for the first time all year (never to dip into the ones again). “I’m excited to face them again on Friday.”
HARVEY DAY THE 13TH: June 8 vs. Miami
Matt gained an extra day of rest for this Saturday afternoon start thanks to a Friday night deluge. He and everybody else would need it, for a long day’s work awaited both the Mets and Marlins. The anticipated Harvey-Jose Fernandez duel of young guns was scintillating enough, as both flamethrowers doused their share of batters. The only run Harvey permitted scored on a sac fly in the fourth, tying the matinee at one. That’s where the score would stay for roughly an eternity. The Mets and Marlins went to extras and then some more extras and then sent out for even more extras. The 1-1 game reached a 20th inning, becoming the Mets’ longest home contest since the Cardinals topped them in 25 in 1974. Same basic result here. The Marlins pushed across a second run in the top of the 20th and the Mets couldn’t respond. Easy to forget following six hours and twenty-five minutes of, uh, action was Harvey’s line — 7 IP, 6 H, 6 SO — and that he left in the eighth when he felt a touch of tightness on the right side of his lower back. It was physically discomfiting for Harvey and definitely made the 20,000 who watched him exit uneasy, but ultimately it was a blip in the pitcher’s season, which continued on schedule six days hence.
HARVEY DAY THE 14TH: June 13 vs. St. Louis
The morning’s forecast suggested the game wouldn’t be played. But the only rain Citi Field experienced this Thursday afternoon was when Matt Harvey’s record was dampened for the first time in 2013. He pitched fine for seven innings: one run on five hits and a walk. Adam Wainwright simply pitched better. During a period when the Mets weren’t hitting against anybody, this was not an ideal moment to run into somebody else’s ace. The Mets tried to bail out their man one more time — Marlon Byrd homered with one out in the ninth to cut their deficit to 2-1 and Buck doubled behind him — but there was neither a win nor no-decision to be had for Matt Harvey. He’d have to live with a 5-1 mark…though he didn’t have to like it. “Today I needed to go out and put up seven zeroes,” he insisted, “and I wasn’t able to do that.”
HARVEY DAY THE 15TH: June 18 at Atlanta
The quest for perfection or something very much like it resumed in the first half of a day-night doubleheader when Harvey was determined to live up to his lofty standards. While Zack Wheeler waited in the wings to make his major league debut at Turner Field, the relatively old pro whose success he’d be attempting to emulate set to quieting chops, chants and bats. Two walks in the third were it by way of Brave baserunners and Matt mistakes for six innings. Staked to a 2-0 lead, the sophomore sensation — was this really only his 25th career start? — had Mets fans once more sitting on the Santanian edge of their seats. This particular dream died on a Jason Heyward trickler up the first base line that Harvey fielded and threw to, as it turned out, nobody. Lucas Duda wasn’t in position to cover, but his faux pas went down as a Heyward hit. Oh well, whaddayagonna do? Why, construct a strike ’em out/throw ’em out double play against the next batter, Freddie Freeman (who broke Dillon Gee’s heart the night before with a walkoff home run). A slightly deflated Harvey exited amid a messy eighth, but by then, the Mets led 4-0, their cushion just plump enough to safely preserve a 4-3 win when it was over. Matt moved to 6-1 with his 13-strikeout gem. “He has electric stuff,” Dan Uggla marveled, adding his voice to an amen corner loaded with opposing hitters who couldn’t touch the man on the mound. When Wheeler earned his first win the night half of the twinbill, it was easy to squint and see a Mets team coming together not just for a Super Tuesday but for a helluva long time.
HARVEY DAY THE 16TH: June 23 at Philadelphia
Can six shutout innings in which only three runners reach base be described as routine? For Matt Harvey this Sunday at Citizens Bank, it was very much business as usual, with the Phillies serving as his anti-Marlins; by year’s end, he’d have faced them five times in his brief career and allowed but four earned runs over 33.1 innings. The only element that got in Harvey’s way was precipitation. A rain delay of 20 minutes was enough to nudge him into the clubhouse after 72 pitches. It had been learned earlier in the week that Harvey was pretty indomitable there, too. In 2012, it was now being reported, reliever Jon Rauch — 6’ 11” and dripping tattoos — attempted to haze/bully/intimidate his rookie teammate with a bucket of ice water to the body; Harvey had been napping, and it wasn’t a good idea to wake him so coldly. Paying no obeisance to Rauch’s veteran status never mind his seven-inch height advantage, Harvey challenged him to fight on the spot. Rauch didn’t accept. He wasn’t a Met after 2012. Anyway, with the Mets up 6-0, Collins figured a little rest couldn’t hurt, and indeed, the Mets cruised to an 8-0 victory, cranking Harvey’s record to 7-1. The All-Star break loomed two weeks away, but it didn’t seem likely Matt would have too many of those days off.
HARVEY DAY THE 17TH: June 28 vs. Washington
Harveysteria had provided an every-fifth-day oasis for Mets fans as the first half of 2013 groaned on, but after a grueling four-city, three-time zone road trip, something unforeseen was developing: the Mets were actually playing pretty well. Starting with Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s bottom-of-the-ninth blast that stunned Carlos Marmol and the Cubs on Fathers Day, the club took off on a legitimate roll, winning eight of twelve as they returned to Citi Field to face the Nationals. Hell, if you tracked back to May 26, you’d discover the Mets had carved the division’s best record. Why? Eric Young, Jr., picked up from Colorado in exchange for Collin McHugh, stepped in as the leadoff hitter and left fielder the Mets had been missing all season. Marlon Byrd manned right beyond all expectations and re-established his offensive bona fides. David Wright was every bit the All-Star the Mets were promoting him to be. Key contributions were chipped in by everybody from Shawn Marcum to Josh Satin. And topping it off at the beginning of an eight-game homestand was the first Harvey Day of the year that packed just a shade of competitive implication. Maybe the fourth-place Mets wouldn’t go anywhere in this year’s playoff hunt, but they trailed the supposedly mighty Nats by only 5½ games for second. The pieces were in place to allow a Mets fan to dream moderately big. How did the ace respond? By registering 99 MPH on the radar gun and retiring the first 14 batters he faced. The string was snapped when Ian Desmond tagged him for a solo home run that knotted the score at one in the fifth, but Byrd and Satin responded immediately, driving in a run apiece to hand Harvey a 3-1 lead. The manager rode his starter for seven innings, 109 pitches, 11 strikeouts and three hits. After three months, Matt Harvey toted an earned run average of exactly 2.00, the best in the league. Then Collins went to his bullpen, which was where this Friday night affair went to die, 6-4. The Mets never did catch the Nationals.
HARVEY DAY THE 18TH: July 3 vs. Arizona
A sellout crowd befitting the industry’s most pulsating success story showed up on a soggy Wednesday night (first pitch was pushed back nearly two hours by rain), though to be accurate about it, the promise of postgame fireworks probably spurred sales quite a lot. Either way, more than 41,000 jammed Citi Field to watch Matt Harvey’s explosive fastball sparkle. They got nine strikeouts from their live right arm but the outing was more grit than greatness until it grew gruesome. Harvey was one out from escaping the sixth with a 2-0 edge when former Florida Marlin and lingering canker sore Cody Ross lofted a fly ball to left that refused to stay in the park. Three runs scored and the evening lost its festive edge. Matt started the seventh by surrendering a walk, a single and a double to give the Diamondbacks a fourth run. Thus ended Matt Harvey’s first Fireworks Night in a fizzle, the Snakes hissing away with a 5-3 decision. At the exact midpoint of the season, Harvey had just experienced his second loss.
HARVEY DAY THE 19TH: July 8 at San Francisco
The Mets were making a habit of playing extraordinarily lengthy games and Matt Harvey (who pinch-bunted in a thirteenth inning against Arizona) seemed to start the longest of them. He was on the mound the night the Marlins beat the Mets in fifteen and the afternoon the Marlins beat the Mets in twenty. Getting Matt away from the Marlins was always helpful, but they weren’t the only team that kept the Mets on the clock. What had begun out west as a battle between pitchers with premier reputations — Harvey against Tim Lincecum — didn’t end until sixteen innings and almost five-and-a-half hours were put into Howie Rose’s books. For a change, the marathoning Mets won one of these insomniacs’ delights, taking a 4-3 decision from the struggling San Franciscans, though the efforts of the starters were obscured by the extended circumstances. Harvey and Lincecum combined for 17 K’s (11 of them Timmy’s) in their six innings apiece, but they did not come close to replicating the mano-a-mano mound duel between Giant Juan Marichal and Brave Warren Spahn when their teams went sixteen at Candlestick 50 years and five days earlier. Those fellas each pitched complete games by the Bay, Spahn’s ending when Willie Mays took him deep to end the evening, 1-0. Terry Collins would have sooner thrown himself into McCovey Cove than try anything remotely like that with Matt Harvey.
HARVEY DAY THE 20TH: July 16 vs. American League All-Stars
“The All-Star Game’s not on my mind,” Harvey declared in early July when questioned about what seemed his inevitable assignment. The Mets were hosting for the first time since 1964. They had one of the best if not the absolute best pitcher in captivity on their roster. On July 6, his inclusion on the National League team was made official. All that remained to be clarified was whether Matt would be available to take the ball. The Mets’ schedule lined up to have Harvey start the final game before the break in Pittsburgh, but there wasn’t a chance in the world that was going to happen. Despite a touch of tut-tutting from the professional naysayers who saw fit to note the All-Star Game was no more than an exhibition, Terry Collins temporarily expanded his rotation to six men, gave long reliever Carlos Torres a turn against the Buccos, and “rested” Harvey just enough so that he’d be ready should Bruce Bochy want to use him for a couple of innings in Queens.
The dominoes fell perfectly. Bochy, whose call it became when he led his Giants to the 2012 World Series, named Harvey the National League starter for the 2013 All-Star Game. “Harvey had a great first half,” the defending champion skipper said. “This is Citi Field. It’s great for baseball and great for the fans of this club that he is the guy,” adding “it wouldn’t have mattered what city we were playing with the year he’s had.” Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (the Giants’ archrivals) owned an ERA 0.37 lower than Harvey’s at the time of Bochy’s choosing and a longer record of accomplishment. The former Cy Young winner wasn’t thrilled at the de facto coronation taking place under his nose. “It hurts,” he said of Bochy implicitly dismissing his outstanding season. “Yeah, it hurts.”
The high-fives of Mets fans resounded too loudly for Kershaw’s protestations to be picked up anywhere but Los Angeles. A year earlier, the consensus was R.A. Dickey was deprived of a well-earned All-Star start in Kansas City that went instead, at Tony LaRussa’s behest, to Matt Cain. The space between Julys had altered the landscape. LaRussa was fully ensconced in retirement; Dickey had been traded to Toronto for what boiled down to a blend of payroll savings and future considerations (a segment of which had been on display at the Sunday Futures Game when Blue Jay import/Binghamton Met Noah Syndergaard showed off his tantalizing right arm); and a 2012 Buffalo Bison stood square at the center of the baseball universe, tabbed to do what only Tom Seaver in 1970 and Dwight Gooden in 1986 and 1988 had done as Mets.
How fast did he come along? So fast that Jimmy Fallon could hand an unidentified Matt Harvey a microphone and send him and a camera crew into Bryant Park to ask passersby for their thoughts on this “Matt Harvey” person. Most everybody seemed to know who the guy in question was, even if they didn’t recognize their interrogator as that guy. Perhaps the problem was the pitcher’s choice of apparel. Most folks had seen him only in No. 33 and/or nothing at all, the latter attributable to his appearance in ESPN: The Magazine’s annual body issue (where athletes’ bodies were photographed but their uniforms weren’t). The consensus of the fan in the street was Harvey — wherever he was — was outstanding. A discouraging word, however, was picked up at the end of the bit.
HARVEY: What do you think of Matt Harvey?
DISSENTER: I think he’s decent, but he hasn’t proved enough. He’s only gone a couple of months now.
HARVEY: What kind of advice would you give him if he was standing right here next to you?
DISSENTER: I would tell him not to blow his arm out and not to go too many innings, not to go over a hundred, pitchwise.
HARVEY: That’s great advice. Do you think he’ll start the All-Star Game?
DISSENTER: Uh, no.
HARVEY: You don’t. Who do you think will start?
DISSENTER: Uh…Kershaw, I think.
HARVEY: You think Kershaw will? He’s a great pitcher. Well, we appreciate your time. Thanks.
HARVEY: I’m Matt Harvey, by the way.
The baseball, media and Late Night spotlight all converged on Harvey so that by the time he threw his final warmup to Yadier Molina in the Tuesday twilight, America was primed to meet the wonder. Captain Wright had served as the ambassador of local goodwill throughout the festivities and Legend Seaver was introduced with a minimum of fanfare to offer first-pitch benediction, but going into the first Flushing-flavored All-Star Game in 49 years, it was Matt Harvey who drew the primary attention of the camera phones.
The seventh overall pick of the 2010 amateur draft — Omar Minaya’s final No. 1 selection as Mets general manager — was, three years later, the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team. Could you blame him for being pumped? For being so pumped that inside his first three pitches he allowed a double down the right field line to the Angels’ Mike Trout and hit the Yankees’ Robinson Cano’s right leg? After all the excitement, reality set in: two on, nobody out, the consensus best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, coming to bat.
Harvey calmed down and conquered all. He struck out the Tiger who had been slashing at an 1.132 rate. He skied Oriole Chris Davis and his 37 home runs to Bryce Harper in center. And he fanned the Jays’ Jose Bautista. One inning later, he converted David Ortiz, Adam Jones and Joe Mauer into a flyout, a 98-MPH strikeout and a lineout, respectively.
Thirty-two pitches, twenty-two strikes, the sense as he finished his mandated two innings that if Bochy let him stick around that the American League would regret not having gotten to him in the first. He and his counterpart Max Scherzer were many pitchers removed by the time the 3-0 A.L. win went final — by then Mariano Rivera’s Midsummer Classic swan song had become the night’s vital statistic — but Matt Harvey definitely made an impression…and vice-versa.
“Once I got out there,” the pitcher said of his All-Star surroundings, “I felt great. I felt like I was home.”
HARVEY DAY THE 21ST: July 21 vs. Philadelphia
In his return to the grind, Matt Harvey continued to shine. On the first Sunday after the break at Citi Field, where Doc Gooden bobbleheads were handed out and designated tickets were marked down 30% in deference to the three American Leaguers Harvey struck out Tuesday, Matt displayed stellar form. He outshone fellow All-Star Cliff Lee (who had glared for a national TV audience when Mets fans greeted his Phillieness none too kindly) and set down his patsies per usual. Philadelphia batters rustled up only three hits in seven innings, failed to walk or score and went down swinging or looking ten times. One of Harvey’s fastballs in the 5-0 win that raised his record to 8-2 measured triple-digits on the home radar gun. Yet somehow Matt was an angry young man afterward, complaining that a profile in the current Men’s Journal had made him out to be something of a jerk. In the article, he waxed philosophical about drinking, dating, dollars and Derek Jeter. There are probably a couple of other d-words that could be mixed in there as well. “The way I was portrayed,” Harvey insisted, “is not who I am.” Hence, he pitched with a little extra fire that Sunday, leaving the Phils singed in the process.
HARVEY DAY THE 22ND: July 26 at Washington
Harvey’s second day-night doubleheader assignment of the year came on the back end this time. The day portion belonged to Jenrry Mejia, emerging from injury rehabilitation to make a startling 2013 debut. Mejia shut out the Nationals over seven innings and the Mets came away with an 11-0 thumping of the defending divisional champs in the matinee. Since June 16, they were a 22-14 club and had crept within two of Washington for second. At seven below .500, progress was all relative, but the Mets of this moment were a better baseball team than they’d been all season…and they had Matt Harvey pitching the nightcap. Sure enough, the ace went eight innings and didn’t give up an earned run, striking out seven along the way. But a lone Washington tally did manage to sneak through on a Daniel Murphy miscue in the fourth, leaving Matt no-decisioned. The 1-1 tie was blown up in the bottom of the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman belted the game-winning home run off LaTroy Hawkins. While Harvey remained 8-2, the Mets unknowingly commenced the closing stretch of their season in familiar fashion. From their apogee of 46-53 between games of the doubleheader, the Mets would fall to 74-88 by campaign’s end.
HARVEY DAY THE 23RD: August 1 at Miami
Five one-hit innings. Then the pumpkins changed back into Marlins. At Marlins Park in 2013 that generally meant bad news for the Mets. This Thursday afternoon marked New York’s last visit to South Florida and Harvey’s third and final start in what amounted to his own personal shark tank. The sixth is what came up to bite him: consecutive singles to Juan Pierre and Christian Yellich; two outs; an RBI for Logan Morrison; an HBP of Ed Lucas to load the bases; and two more runs after Donovan Solano singled — the only hit Harvey allowed in seven sacks-full situations all year. Eight strikeouts, no walks, yet removal with two on and a 3-0 deficit, the ultimate final score. In none of Harvey’s starts at last-place Miami did he complete six innings or throw fewer than 100 pitches. The Mets lost all three, this one to Stony Brook alum Tom Koehler. It was bafflement all around. Marlins manager Mike Redmond: “I don’t know that I can explain it. For whatever reason, we really lock it in against him and we’ve just been able to kind of rise to the occasion.” Harvey (8-3) himself: “It’s not like I take this start or this team any different than against any other team. It’s just been that team this year that happens to squeeze out some runs.” Harvey’s ERA for the season now stood at 2.21. Subtract his sixteen frustrating innings in Miami and it dropped like a rock to 1.94.
HARVEY DAY THE 24TH: August 7 vs. Colorado
Tom Seaver needed 24. Dwight Gooden required seven. Matt Harvey? He posted his first complete game shutout in the 33rd start of his thus far brilliant career. Seeing as how nobody seriously counted Seaver’s pitches in 1967 and the custom had yet to catch on when Gooden debuted in 1984, it can be calculated that Harvey’s first blanket blanking of an opponent arrived right on time in 2013. Five times to date, including in his MLB debut at Arizona on July 26, 2012, Harvey left a game with no runs permitted, but never before the opposition had been fully filed away. On this Wednesday night, Terry Collins let an economical Matt (106 pitches) do his thing against Colorado to its logical conclusion. The only discernible bump on the road to his four-hitter was one he absorbed when the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon lined a comebacker off Harvey’s knee with two out in the ninth. The ball bothered him no more than the temperatures of April or the All-Star glare of July. Judged sound enough to continue, the starter turned finisher, popping up Troy Tulowitzki to end the 5-0 whitewashing on his own steam. First shutout, first complete game, maybe the first night when Harvey couldn’t find anything to pick apart about his performance. “It’s awesome,” he said of the 2:20 game that lifted his record to 9-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.09. “As a starting pitcher, that’s what you shoot for every time.” No less an authority than Todd Helton — who would retire at season’s end with more 2,500 hits compiled across 17 years — tipped his cap on his way out: “He was as good as I’ve seen in a long time.”
HARVEY DAY THE 25TH: August 13 at Los Angeles
The quotes that were missing last time out in New York were back in force in L.A. Matt Harvey wasn’t happy at his very human outing at Dodger Stadium, where he was outphenomed by Hyun-jin Ryu on the mound and Yasiel Puig at the plate. Even utilityman Nick Punto got the upper hand on Harvey, doubling in the two fifth-inning runs that shoved the Mets behind, 2-1, en route to a 4-2 loss, Matt’s fourth of the season. His ordinary six innings of eight-hit, two-walk ball drew scalding criticism from his harshest critic: himself. “I was pretty inconsistent all night,” Harvey told reporters. “I just couldn’t locate anything. When I tried to go in, it was all over the middle. When I tried to go away, I was yanking it a bit. And when you’re not hitting your spots and making quality pitches against a team like that, they’re going to put the ball in play.” Starts like these will happen to the best of them. In fact, it just did.
HARVEY DAY THE 26TH: August 18 at San Diego
Matt Harvey was good in Matt Harvey terms, which would translate to greatness for most of the rest of the pitching population, but not good enough to bolster a Met lineup whose four-through-seven spots were held down by rookies. The Mets were breaking in Josh Satin, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud and very much missing an injured David Wright. Harvey’s six innings of two-run ball was sufficient to forge a 2-2 tie. Collins tried to crush the deadlock by pinch-hitting for his pitcher in the seventh, even though he’d thrown only 86 pitches, but no runs resulted. The Padres came away as 4-3 winners this sunny Sunday afternoon at Petco Park once Max Venable homered off Pedro Feliciano in the bottom of the ninth. It marked Harvey’s twelfth no-decision in his previous twenty-one starts. Matt gave up two or fewer runs in eight of the 12 NDs. The Mets won only three of the dozen games in question. Of course Harvey blamed himself in the postgame clubhouse: “I need to go out and not give up runs like I did in the fifth inning. If I don’t do that, maybe I’m still in the game.” Notice he didn’t say the game would be over and the Mets would have won. He must have figured out that his posting zeroes and his young teammates producing runs were two separate matters entirely.
HARVEY DAY THE 27TH: August 24 vs. Detroit
A late-summer Saturday. A late afternoon, at that. Fox wanted in on this one: Max Harvey (9-4) vs. Max Scherzer (18-1), reconvening at Citi Field in an unprecedented in-season rematch of All-Star starters. The Mets sold more than 35,000 tickets. Detroit was surely a glamour opponent, but Harvey was Harvey, and Harvey Day was a happening regardless of who occupied the visitors’ dugout. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” played, No. 33 warmed, the crowd anticipated and…something was wrong with this picture. Matt worked around two hits in the first, but couldn’t deter the Tigers in the second. It wasn’t just that there were four hits that led to two runs. It’s that every ball was addressed with authority. You’d expect that from Miguel Cabrera, who came in batting .356, but this was everybody swinging and connecting. And this wasn’t Daisuke Matsuzaka who was attempting to tame them. The Tigers clawed Dice-K in his first Met start on Friday night. What Detroit did to Harvey wasn’t quite so ugly, but by the time he was pulled with two out in the seventh, the Motor City Maulers had mass-produced thirteen hits off New York’s ace; even Scherzer notched a double. Remarkably, the score was still 2-0. Maybe it wasn’t remarkable, because Matt Harvey wasn’t just a thrower. He was an elite pitcher of the highest order 36 starts into his career. Elite pitchers know how to work around trouble. But Harvey had found himself in so little trouble in 2013, that it was hard to reckon the racking around he took. Scherzer’s 19th win, 3-0, became Harvey’s fifth loss. This one, though, felt heavier than all the rest. “Just a poor performance,” the ace acknowledged. “I’m getting pretty tired, but so is everybody, and you have to work through it.”
HARVEY DAY: The Abrupt End
August 29 was the next scheduled Harvey Day. It never came.
Well, August 29 came, but it morphed into a Carlos Torres start. A couple of days after the Tigers battered him, the Mets announced the ulnar collateral ligament in Matt Harvey’s right elbow was partially torn. In English? He was done for the season and probably the next season. There was a quick round of recriminations (what did the Mets know and when did they know it?) followed by some bravado about rehabbing the arm and avoiding operations altogether (mostly from Harvey, who tweeted that he planned to be back in time for Opening Day), but there was little doubt as Harvey was leaving the stage for 2013 that the next pitcher he’d be facing would be Tommy John…or the ligament-replacement surgery that was named after him. Sure enough, Matt went in for the procedure on October 22. It was pronounced “successful,” though surgery is rarely termed a disaster if the patient emerges intact.
Harvey’s absence for all of 2014 is the wound that won’t soon heal for Mets fans, but their ace’s career can legitimately be considered on hold as opposed to in danger. Bleacher Report estimates well over a hundred pitchers active in the big leagues in 2013 encountered Tommy John at some point in their careers. Darren Oliver, who pitched for the Mets in 2006, had it in 1991. Jenrry Mejia and David Aardsma, Harvey’s teammates this past season, each had it in 2011. Stephen Strasburg, whom Harvey so memorably outpitched in April, had it in 2010. Adam Wainwright, who dealt Harvey his first L in June, had it in 2011. And of course Tommy John, who came up to the bigs in 1963, had Tommy John surgery in 1974. He returned to the mound in 1976. He stayed there until 1989.
“Tommy John surgery is a bigger part of baseball than Cracker Jacks,” Joe Posnanski wrote this past November. “You almost never see people at the ballpark eating Cracker Jacks. You almost always see a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery.”
HARVEY DAY: The Meaning Of It All
So the end of the world has every chance of being a temporary condition, albeit one with as much discomfort around Citi Field as Harvey felt in his right forearm after that start against Detroit. The final month of ’13 offered an unwanted sneak preview of life without Harvey Day. Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese could all produce a good start, and a good start can be fun. But there was no transcendence to be found in their assignments; certainly no Days deferred their identities as homage to any of them. They’re swell guys who can pitch some swell games, but they’re not defining our lives and times in a baseball sense.
Matt Harvey did. Matt Harvey created a season within a season, a season apart from the standard Met mediocrity. It wasn’t 24 + 1 in the nefarious A-Rod sense of Steve Phillips’s most memorable turn of phrase, but it was definitely different from everything else in its midst. Harvey threaded an experiential jamboree through the staid maneuverings of his colleagues. It’s almost difficult to recall that Harvey Day was technically part and parcel of the 2013 New York Mets. It was, as the customers determined on April 19, BETTER!
The sum total of Harvey Days — save for the All-Star interlude — added up to a 9-5 record that didn’t begin to illustrate how dominant its progenitor was. Harvey landed in the Top Ten of seventeen different National League pitching categories, both traditional and advanced. His earned run average of 2.27 was third-best in the senior circuit. He was second in walks and hits per innings pitched with 0.931. He struck out more than a batter per inning, a rate that ranked him third in the N.L. No starter gave up fewer home runs per nine innings. No pitcher had a higher fielding percentage. Despite missing that final month (when he was probably going to have his innings curtailed anyway), he finished tied for fourth in Cy Young voting, trailing Clayton Kershaw, Wainwright and Jose Fernandez.
The dissenter from the Jimmy Fallon video must have felt vindicated.
Numbers told a great deal of the Harvey Day story in 2013, as they provide the subtext to nearly every baseball story. But Harvey Day was more than the box scores and pitching lines, even more than his ungodly fastball and uncommonly hard changeup, slider and breaking stuff. Harvey Day was a sense that today or tonight, something great might transpire and nothing bad will happen. The latter is every bit as important to the post-2006 Mets fan psyche as the former. That, one supposes, is the sense of security a stopper generates, but the point for those who have stuck by these non-contending Mets wasn’t stopping. It was starting.
Matt Harvey starting approximately every fifth day felt like the start of something decidedly bigger than what we’d grown used to in the Citi Field era. Harvey Day existed on the road, but it was at home where it meant the most. The “HARVEY’S BETTER!” game, the near-perfecto versus the White Sox, the serendipity of the All-Stars flocking to Flushing this year of all years…we needed that. We needed something worth our hard-earned money, t-shirt included or not. (Matt’s 1.89 home ERA made for plenty good value anyway.)
We’ve had little to stir us since Shea, where the late-period misfortune was at least dramatic. In the not-so-new place, not enough of surpassing consequence has occurred or even been on the line. Everybody who accomplished something certifiably sensational in Citi’s first terms — a batting title, a jinx-shattering no-hitter, a twentieth win — wasn’t around by the next season to enjoy its goodwill. The team’s best everyday player, the one who isn’t going anywhere, has spent five seasons trapped in a cycle of coming to grips with the effects of the ballpark on his offensive abilities. As he plugs away into his early thirties, knocking off almost every career team hitting record in sight and modeling only the most admirable of behavior, David Wright isn’t likely to become measurably more exciting, no matter how much he might excel. You will probably always want to appreciatively applaud Wright’s earnest professionalism and plus production.
But what you really want to do is leap to your feet at the sight of Matt Harvey. You want to jump on his back and trust him to take you to a higher place than third and to seasons that don’t trail off by the end of July. You want to keep coming out to witness the making of history and to believe in something extraordinary. You want to hope like hell that his rehabilitative powers match everything else in his arsenal. You want a rotation of fully realized talents to coalesce around him and a lineup that can approximate his output sprout in support of him.
Mostly, you want the first Harvey Day of 2015 to get its ass here already.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature