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It Feels Like the Very First Time

Harvey’s better. And we’re not so bad ourselves.

The pitcher you may have caught on TV, and if you can’t be John Buck, that’s not a bad way to catch him. Certainly you have the benefit of helpful camera angles, possibly pause and rewind buttons and all the concentration you care to muster. You could see for yourself Friday night as you’ve probably seen three times prior this season what a job Matt Harvey is doing of baffling hitters and promulgating victory [1].

But the phenomenon is something you really should have been a part of at Citi Field. It was something else. It was Harveysteria. It began in earnest Friday night and I don’t see any good reason for it to end.

Matt Harvey was promoted to the Mets late last July and made an immediate impression fully within reason. You know: rookie callup, got ya excited, backslid here and there, encapsulated those lessons about not being altogether over the moon too soon for his or your own good.

We can stop with that now.

I’m here to tell you to take the training wheels off your hopes and dreams. I’m here to tell you that in Matt Harvey’s first full season in the major leagues, you can project whatever you like onto this kid. I’m here to tell you to not take it easy. I’m here to tell you to go in hard.

Matt Harvey is why you become a baseball fan. Matt Harvey is why you ask somebody to take you to a baseball game when you’re a kid and why you keep going to baseball games when you’re a much older kid.

You know what Matt Harvey did from the mound. You know what Matt Harvey did to the Nationals. You know how Matt Harvey overshadowed Stephen Strasburg. But you couldn’t quite know, unless you were there, what Matt Harvey ignited at Citi Field Friday night.

He turned it on. He plugged it in. He lit up a fan base. He wired us for sound. He transformed a facility into a ballpark. He made Mets fans pay attention to a Mets game, for crissake. I’ve been going to that place for five seasons now and unless we were having the circumstances spelled out for us, we were never quite absorbed into the action as we were when Harvey outpitched Strasburg, overpowered Strasburg’s teammates and, when faced with his single moment of adversity, plum Harveyed up until adversity disappeared into the lingering fog.

There’s no fog enshrouding what Harvey accomplished, though. Yeah, seven innings, four hits, three walks, one run (somehow) and the three runners who boarded the bases in the seventh with nobody out and weren’t permitted to exit their stations until there were three out in the seventh.

Yet that wasn’t even the best part.

The best part was when Harvey wasn’t pitching, but watching. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda had taken to slugging, supporting their pitcher with a couple of extra runs on the off chance he’d need them. Ike and Lucas socked it to Strasburg, who hadn’t been sharp, but hadn’t been dented since the first. Strasburg was the co-attraction when the night started, and though he amounted to little more than a light mist in the face of Hurricane Harvey, he’d hung around in that way top pitchers do if you don’t knock them out ASAP. But now, with two home runs in the sixth to go with the two runs from the first, Strasburg was severely dented…the very same Strasburg who’d been hyped to the high heavens since his big league debut in 2010, the year the Mets quietly drafted a kid out of the University of North Carolina who, until Friday, had never made it to the same breath as the Washington sensation.

For three years, it’s been Strasburg, Strasburg, Strasburg. He was the Marcia Brady of the National League East. It’s tough to say Stephen Strasburg wasn’t chatworthy, but when there’s one pitcher in your division who’s on everybody’s lips and he’s not on your team; and when you’re convinced your pitcher has, by all recent objective measure, surpassed that other team’s pitcher; and when your team has taken what little it’s had to hang its hat on and traded it to Toronto — well, godammit, this is where we grab the mic and change the conversation.

There was no prompt on the scoreboard. There were no t-shirts distributed ahead of time. There was no social network behind it. There was just a chant rising from the seats, the seats that were being occupied for baseball instead of abandoned in search of Shack Burgers and frozen cocktails.


Are they saying what I think they’re saying?


Wait…have these people put that together themselves?


Holy Tim Foli, they’re taunting Strasburg! They know what’s going on!


By George Stone, I think they’ve got it!

If long-term health and contractual status hold out, there will be plenty of time and way more evidence provided to determine if, indeed, Matt Harvey is better than Stephen Strasburg or, heaven forefend, Stephen Strasburg is better than Matt Harvey. Matt Harvey will go up against other aces from other rivals, too. Matt Harvey will draw crowds and focus in an age when crowds are usually sparse and focus tends to be fractured. Matt Harvey will win and the Mets will be forced to follow if they care to keep up.

Inevitably, it will all be traced back to the “Harvey’s better” game, one of those nights destined to stay with those who were in on its ground floor. Mets fans from 2013 who have yet to be introduced will sit next to one another some night up the road and trade reminiscences as Mets fans do. They will feel each other out, who was where for what and so forth. If it’s the relatively near future, one of them will say “Harvey’s better,” and the other of them will know what it means. If it’s far off, there will be a prelude to set the scene, about this game I was at when Matt Harvey was in his first or second year, against the Nationals, and the sentence will be finished by a different voice: you mean the ‘Harvey’s better’ game? I was there, too!

Mention of Matt Harvey’s name of late eventually evokes another dozen names, all pitchers, all predecessors of his, mostly on the Mets, sometimes from elsewhere. If you’re an optimist, they’re great pitchers to whom you believe Harvey might measure up. If you’re less sanguine, you’re cataloguing pitchers who have shown Harvey’s kind of promise but experienced careers that limped off into mediocrity, injury-riddled or otherwise. Friday night, without necessarily meaning to, my companion (to whom I owe another round of thanks for an outstanding seat from which to watch what we hoped would be a duel but were delighted to see develop into a romp) and I rolled out our own series of names — some you’d guess, some you wouldn’t. Thing is, even as we bathed Harvey v. Strasburg in the glow of golden precedent, I was comforted that Matt is something new to us. He’s not the Next This or Another That. He’s Matt Harvey. We’ve never had one before.

And I swear I’ve never had Citi Field feel like the thriving home of the baseball team I care about before. When it comes to emotion and electricity, Citi Field has never had more than a temporary power surge run through it, certainly nothing organically generated. A no-hitter (now that we know what one is like) would be enormous in a parking lot — or a former parking lot, at that. That twentieth win revealed itself a one-off in the scheme of things once the twentieth-winner was shipped abroad. Batting titles, franchise records, the occasional walkoff win…here and gone, basically.

But Harvey besting Strasburg, on the heels of Harvey besting every comer who’s taken him on in 2013, with the crowd understanding intrinsically what it meant (while taking joyous note of events transpiring in the world outside the ballpark’s brick walls [2])…that’s not just a night to remember. That’s a night to build on.