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Looking back at Matt Harvey’s body of work with the Mets

Before the surgery and the struggles, Matt Harvey was a bonafide ace with electric stuff and an attitude to match

World Series - Kansas City Royals v New York Mets - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Matt Harvey era officially came to an end on Friday, when the New York Mets designated the former ace for assignment. The move completes a stunning fall for a pitcher who, less than three years ago, took the mound in Game 1 of the World Series and was the talk of New York.

A lot has been said about his attitude, his agent, his injury problems, and his struggles, which has changed the narrative around Harvey. It may be hard to remember, but he was once a legitimate superstar whose numbers backed up his bravado. He was also the first glimpse into the future for a franchise that had not made the playoffs since 2006 and had struggled since moving into Citi Field. Harvey was the first tangible sign that the Mets could be legitimate contenders again.

The Mets drafted Harvey seventh overall in the 2010 draft out of the University of North Carolina. He split time between Single-A and Double-A in 2011 and started the 2012 season in Triple-A Buffalo. It wasn’t long before the Mets, who still considered themselves to be in contention, called Harvey up to join a rotation that included aging ace Johan Santana and eventual Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. He earned the victory in his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 26 and set a franchise record with 11 strikeouts. He finished his rookie campaign with a 2.73 ERA, a 3.30 FIP, and 70 strikeouts in 10 starts.

The legend of Matt Harvey erupted in 2013, as he developed into a household name and became known as “The Dark Knight”. He graced the cover of the May edition of Sports Illustrated with his new moniker and put up incredible numbers, and Harvey jerseys were spotted all around New York City. In one of his most celebrated starts, Harvey out-dueled Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg on April 19 at Citi Field. He allowed just one run and struck out seven, while the Nationals’ young stud was hit hard. The crowd at Citi Field rained “Harvey’s Better!” chants down from the stands in a show of appreciation and anticipation. It was the coronation of a pitcher who was expected to lead the Mets out of the dark and into the promised land.

In a season where he struck out a career-high 191 batters and posted a 2.27 ERA and a league-leading 2.01 FIP, the highlight was being named the starter of the All-Star Game at Citi Field. He pitched two scoreless innings for the National League, giving Mets fans a reason to smile during a lost season. Harvey was a genuine force to be reckoned with on the mound, with a devastating fastball that routinely hit 98mph on the gun. Harvey finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting that year, and his 95.8mph average fastball velocity led all major league starters. In August, it was announced that Harvey would need to undergo Tommy John Surgery, which kept him out for the entire 2014 season.

Harvey returned in 2015 following a 17-month rehab and showed no ill effects from the surgery. Now 26, Harvey had joined a rotation that included 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and would later include Noah Syndergaard (who made his debut in May) and Long Island lefty Steven Matz (who made his debut in June). Together, they formed one of the most impressive young rotations in all of baseball, even with Zack Wheeler missing that entire season with Tommy John Surgery. Harvey finished with a a 2.71 ERA, a 3.01 FIP, and 188 strikeouts. With The Dark Knight at the helm and the rotation firing on all cylinders, the Mets claimed their first National League East title in nine years and their first National League pennant in 15 years.

2015 also saw the first signs of real controversy, as Harvey’s agent Scott Boras suggested his client could potentially sit out the playoffs if he reached his recommended limit of 180 innings post-surgery. In a similar move, the Nationals shut down Strasburg before the 2012 postseason and were eliminated in the Division Series. Concerns were quelled when it was announced that Harvey would pitch in the postseason. Harvey later missed a mandatory workout in early October before the team’s playoff run began, and it was reported that he was out drinking the previous night. Many in the media had begun to portray Harvey as a playboy who was mostly interested in the attention and the headlines and, fairly or unfairly, some fans began to sour on him.

Harvey was able to brush aside the negative press and put up a great postseason, starting four games and posting a 3.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts. He picked up wins in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Game 1 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs and was named as the Game 1 starter for the World Series. His watershed moment was Game 5 of the World Series against Kansas City Royals. With the Mets’ backs against the wall, Harvey took the mound and was untouchable for eight shutout innings. With the team clinging to a 2-0 lead, he demanded the ball from manager Terry Collins in the ninth inning but was unable to seal the deal. Harvey could only watch somberly from the bench as the Mets lost the lead and, eventually, the game and the series.

It was hard to imagine at the time that Game 5 was perhaps the turning point of his career. During spring training the following year, Harvey was diagnosed with a blood clot in his bladder, though he was still able to start on Opening Day in Kansas City. The health scare foreshadowed darker days for The Dark Knight, as he struggled consistently for the first time in his career. In a start against Strasburg at Citi Field on May 19, Harvey allowed nine runs (six earned) in two-and-two-thirds innings as he was booed off the mound by fans who, just six months earlier, cheered as he emerged from the dugout to start the ninth inning of Game 5.

While Harvey was able to recover and lower his ERA from 5.77 (following the loss to the Nationals) to 4.86 and showed glimpses of greatness throughout the season (including a Memorial Day shut-out victory against the Chicago White Sox), he put up paltry numbers overall and was nowhere close to the the ace he once was. In July, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and had surgery later that month, which ended his season. He finished with a 4.86 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, and only 76 strikeouts in 92-and-two-thirds innings.

Harvey showed positive signs in his first four starts of 2017, as he allowed eight earned runs over 25-and-one-third innings. However, he faltered for the remainder of the season and was never been able to properly recover from the surgery. He later missed significant time in the middle of the season after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his scapula. His fastball velocity had declined and his pitches didn’t have the same movement that once made him a ferocious starter. Worse yet, drama continued to surround Harvey. In May, he was suspended for three games after he didn’t show up to a game at Citi Field. He finished 2017 with a 6.70 ERA and a 6.37 FIP in 92-and-two-thirds innings.

After a promising spring training in 2018, Harvey opened the season by pitching five scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies amid the Mets’ best 14-game start in franchise history. Unfortunately, it was the last good start of his tenure with the team. Over three subsequent starts, he allowed 14 earned runs in 16 innings. On April 21, the Mets announced that Harvey had been demoted to the bullpen. Things didn’t get better, as he posted a 10.50 ERA in four relief appearances, and finished with a 7.00 ERA overall. In his final appearance with the club, he allowed five earned runs in mop-up duty against the Atlanta Braves on May 3.

The Mets finally cut ties with Harvey on May 4 before their game with the Colorado Rockies. Sandy Alderson told reporters that the team offered him an opportunity to go to Triple-A Las Vegas and work out his struggles, but Harvey declined. Mickey Callaway expressed remorse and felt as if the team had failed Harvey. It was an end that nobody could have forseen when Collins took the ball from Harvey’s hands on November 1, 2015. At the time, it felt like it was only the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

Harvey’s career with the Mets will be dissected and discussed for years to come. New York loves personalities when they’re performing, and Harvey certainly fit the bill in his first three seasons. Once the injuries took hold and he could no longer perform like the ace New York was promised, the city turned on him. For better or for worse, Harvey’s tenure with the Mets is one of the most fascinating in the franchise’s history.

There will be no plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame and no World Series banner associated with it, but Harvey still provided Mets fans with a number of memorable moments, and he won’t soon be forgotten.