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The Never-Boring Life of Matt Harvey

For a guy who’s just turned 28, Matt Harvey [1]‘s had quite a life.

He arrived with klieg lights, billed as a phenom and a savior and welcoming both labels. The right arm reminded you of a hallowed Metsian name indeed [2] — and so did the mean streak. Then he was shot from the sky by the failure of the tiniest band of connective tissue, like so many young fireballers are. He went away, came back and kept the Mets alive on the biggest stage of all under the brightest lights possible … only to have it all fall apart with shocking cruelty, transformed from hero to footnote in a few minutes.

And then, in a very strange year even by his standards, Harvey became two things no one could have imagined: a second banana and a question mark.

He’s had nights of glory and weeks of frustration, often accompanied by wrong-way 2-1 and 3-2 scores. He’s suffered self-inflicted wounds, grimly filibustering for the cameras about innings limits and the merits of Qualcomm, and been targeted by talk radio’s professionally cynical hyenas. (BREAKING: HANDSOME YOUNG ATHLETE TAKES MODEL TO SPORTING EVENT!)

And despite all his otherworldly talent, he’s been eclipsed on his own stage. Utter the words “Mets ace” and 100 out of 100 fans will answer, “Noah Syndergaard [3].” The kid who was a Lansing Lugnut when Harvey arrived has turned out to be both a faster gunslinger and a more natural pitchman, serenely in on the joke while Harvey tries harder and looks unhappier.

The guy all that has happened to is just 28? It feels more like he’s 56, doesn’t it?

Which brings us to tonight, and Harvey’s debut as unknown quantity.

Thoracic outlet surgery, let’s be clear, is no joke: the surgeon removes a rib to create more space for the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves running from the neck to the arm — nerves that can get pinched in their passage through the space between rib and collarbone. Depending on your profession, the symptoms can include pins and needles in the fingers, numbness, or a loss of feel for breaking pitches.

If a doctor sawed a rib out of me, I’d spend at least the next 18 months on the couch with a bell and a deep reservoir of self-pity. Harvey healed up and got back to work despite knowing the odds — among pitchers who’ve had this surgery, brownouts and farewells outnumber successes.

Tonight, happily, was a success. Harvey mixed his pitches ably, dialing up his fastball to 94 and showing good command of his slider and change-up. His night was marred only by the presence of Matt Kemp [4], who absolutely destroyed two defenseless baseballs. Meanwhile, the Mets eventually caught up with Jaime Garcia [5] — a fellow returnee from thoracic outlet syndrome — giving Harvey an atypical level of run support.

There were no outfield misadventures [6]. Instead you got a couple of nifty plays by Wilmer Flores [7], Wilmer’s Fiskian mirror-image homer around the foul pole, and a two-run double from Travis d’Arnaud [8], who donned the postgame crown without apparently suffering a spontaneous skull fracture, a severe allergic reaction to Chinese spray paint or some other injury that would leave you slack-jawed if it happened to any other player.

Really, it was all one could have hoped for [9].

I should stop there. But maybe, just maybe, we saw the start of something else out there at Citi Field.

From the day of his arrival, Harvey has never hid his ferocious drive or his naked ambition, barreling over everyone from enemy batters to managers with pitch counts and dickhead teammates looking to haze somebody. Those qualities undoubtedly helped get him to this stage — but when bad luck and ill health arrived, those same qualities seemed to get in his way, leaving him looking like a young man who’d added himself to the enemies list.

Harvey’s no longer a savior, a phenom, or even an ace. He’s a No. 3 starter. That role comes with a lot less wattage, but when you’re down a ligament and a rib before your 30th birthday that might not be a bad thing. Let the big blond beast show off comic-book bobbleheads and baseball-card internships and answer a billion questions after every start. That’ll leave the No. 3 starter with space — or as much as you get in New York — to figure out what a reconfigured body and an older, wiser brain can produce.

And then he’ll see where the road leads. Because if Matt Harvey’s learned anything from all this recent everything, it’s that your destination is uncertain.