For the second time this year, it's the moment we've all been waiting for. Six months ago, Matt Harvey made his return to the Citi Field mound after missing the end of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Open since 2009, Citi Field has had some moments—R.A. Dickey's twentieth win on his way to winning the Cy Young in 2012 among them. The place has always been an enjoyable spot to watch baseball, but the crowd understandably didn’t get raucous very often as the Mets played six seasons of losing baseball, twice hinting at reaching .500 but never actually getting there.
I've had the fortune to be at two notably-electric games that Harvey has pitched at home thus far. One of those came early in the 2013 season, as Harvey squared off against then-ace of the Washington Nationals staff, Stephen Strasburg. The crowd, just 26,675 officially and less than that in reality, came alive, chanting "Harvey's better" so loud and clear that the SNY broadcast booth was blown away.
From there, Harvey went on to have a Cy Young-caliber season, even if catching Clayton Kershaw for the award that year would have been a tough feat. Until the elbow injury, of course.
Five days shy of two years after the "Harvey's better" game, Harvey made his first appearance back at Citi Field. This time, 39,489 people bought tickets, and it felt that night like most of them had shown up to give a very warm homecoming reception to the pitcher everyone considered the very best.
The game turned out to be a circus. Chase Utley hit a home run off Harvey in the first inning, but the Mets tied the game in the bottom of that inning and scored three in the second inning. The crowd had already been amped up by Harvey's return alone, focusing on pitches with an intensity typically reserved for playoff games.
It got more intense, too, as the Mets continued to stave off the Phillies. David Buchanan, Philadelphia's starting pitcher, hit Wilmer Flores and Michael Cuddyer with pitches. Harvey retaliated, hitting Utley with a pitch and staring him down as he took his base at first. The crowd at the game appreciated that.
And that was the game in which David Wright pulled up with a hamstring injury that turned into a spinal stenosis diagnosis that wiped out several months of his season. It was one of the best atmospheres I've ever experienced.
Haven't seen Citi Field like this before. I want more.— Chris McShane (@chrismcshane) April 15, 2015
It's all really come full circle going into tonight's very important Game 3 on the NLDS. Utley, traded to the Dodgers in August, has managed to make himself even more reviled than he ever was as a Phillie with an awful takeout of Ruben Tejada in Game 2 that broke the shortstop's leg. Harvey will pitch the first postseason game at Citi Field. Wright, who returned with a few weeks left in the regular season, will be in the starting lineup. If Harvey pitches well tonight—and perhaps especially if he throws at Utley—the innings limit saga of September will be a very distant memory as the home crowd loses its collective mind.
Fellow Amazin' Avenue writer Brock Mahan summed up what tonight might feel like pretty perfectly in a conversation last night: equal parts Harvey's return and a 1999 Braves visit to Shea Stadium.
I'm fortunate to be going to tonight's game, too, and even though it's smaller than Shea was, I'm thinking this will be the loudest baseball game I've ever attended. And I can't wait.