Here at Amazin’ Avenue, we’re marking the 10-year anniversary of Matt Harvey’s transcendent 2013 season by spending the year looking back at each of Harvey’s amazing 26 starts that season, one by one, on the anniversary day of each start. We’ll re-live one of the best pitching seasons in Mets history, from its zenith to its tragic end.
Today, we continue the series with Harvey’s fourth start of the year, April 19 against the Nationals. You can read about his last start here.
Before Matt Harvey, there was Stephen Strasburg. Everyone who was around at the time remembers the hype that surrounded Strasburg in his rookie 2010 season. He was a phenom, not just in DC, but league-wide. The former first-overall pick had one of the most anticipated big league debuts ever. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery derailed that rookie season, and Strasburg didn’t make it back to the mound until 2012.
Strasburg’s 2012 season was rock solid, but slightly disappointing; his 3.16 ERA and 4.0 fWAR were very good, but not the ace-level he was promised to be. Still, now two years removed from Tommy John and having completed a full MLB season for the first time, Strasburg was seen as a likely candidate to have a big breakout in 2013.
Meanwhile, Harvey was three starts into a breakout of his own. The Mets ace had sort of become the shiny new pitching toy in baseball, knocking Strasburg off that mantle. As fate would have it, the snow-outs on the Mets road trip pushed Harvey’s next start back to the first game of the homestand against the Nationals, pitting the two young goliaths in a head-to-head showdown on a Friday night at Citi Field.
The hype around this heavyweight battle was palpable for days leading up to it. Two days before the game, we here at Amazin’ Avenue compared the anticipation around it to one of Doc Gooden’s starts. From the column itself:
“The beginning is a time to hope, think big, and get ahead of yourself. Mets fans on hand to watch Harvey, and what could be the start of a new era of excitement in Queens, should feel welcome to do all three on Friday night.
Because this is only the beginning.”
Speaking of Gooden, after his “Real Deal” tweet went viral, he went out to Citi Field himself for this game to get an in-person look at the 24-year-old phenom and take in all the excitement first hand. Like the rest of us, Doc was all in on Harvey.
This may seem harder to believe now after ten years of watching elite pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, and Harvey himself go up against other team’s aces, but this was a big deal at the time. This was the first homegrown Mets ace in decades, going up against the heralded ace of a hated division rival. This was special. This was the most exciting thing to happen for the Mets in a long time.
26,675 fans gathered at Citi Field on this night, which sounds light for such a highly anticipated event, but it was the largest home crowd Harvey had ever pitched in front of in his career to that point. In the opening of that game’s broadcast on SNY, Gary Cohen brought up names like Feller, Gibson, Ryan, Seaver, Gooden, Verlander, Kershaw, and Price as pitchers that both Harvey and Strasburg were trying to match or exceed in their greatness. Apparently, we were done trying to temper expectations.
Harvey took the stage first. The crowd was buzzing as much as a Citi Field crowd ever had to that point. Harvey was obviously a little juiced up himself, as he blew Denard Span away with a 99 MPH fastball for the first out of the game. Harvey would calm down a bit, sitting closer to 97 the rest of the inning, but he got through the frame after only allowing a walk.
In the bottom half of the inning, it was Strasburg’s turn. He wasn’t as lucky. A fielding error, a base hit, and a wild pitch pushed across a Mets run before Strasburg could even record an out. Later in the inning, John Buck continued his torrid April with an RBI single to put the Mets out to a 2-0 lead. Both runs were unearned, but Harvey and the Mets had the early upper hand.
Harvey went right back at it in the second, punching out the first two in the inning and getting through the frame in order. Strasburg allowed a lead-off double to Marlon Byrd in the bottom half, but bounced back from his rough first inning by hanging a zero.
And from there, the pitcher’s duel we were promised began to take shape. The two young pitchers took over the game, matching zero for zero every frame. After that Byrd double, the Mets did not get another hit until the sixth inning. Meanwhile, Harvey had allowed only two hits through six innings of his own, with one of them coming from Strasburg. Outside of that fluky first inning, this was everything we were promised.
That is, until Ike Davis stepped to the plate in the sixth. He drove the first pitch he saw, Strasburg’s 96th of the game, over the left-center field wall. It broke Davis out of a deep slump and it gave the Mets a 3-0 lead.
Two batters later, Lucas Duda parked one into the Big Apple seats in center field. It was 4-0. Citi Field erupted, probably as much as it ever had to that point. The Mets were touching up Strasburg as he labored over 100 pitches.
With the crowd realizing that Harvey was now firmly out-pitching Strasburg, a chant started to materialize and spread throughout the park. It quickly became loud enough to hear on the SNY broadcast.
It was as whimsical as it was creative; of course Harvey wasn’t automatically better than Strasburg after just one head-to-head start, but bragging rights are never based in practicality. Bragging rights were so hard to come by for Mets fans back then that we took any victory we could. As someone who was there that night, I can tell you nobody cared about things like “sample size.” It didn’t matter. Harvey was our guy now, and we were all hitching our wagons to the Harvey train, for better or worse.
Strasburg completed the sixth inning after giving up those two bombs. He was done for the night having allowed five hits, four runs (two earned), and two walks.
Meanwhile, Harvey was chugging along into the seventh. At just 86 pitches, he could have gone much longer, but he finally started to waver in that seventh inning. A leadoff walk and back-to-back singles by Ian Desmond and Chad Tracy finally pushed across the first run for the Nationals. Then, a Daniel Murphy throwing error on a potential double play ball loaded the bases with nobody out against Harvey.
This was, for all intents and purposes, the first sustained rally against Harvey to this point in the season. It was the most baserunners he had surrendered in an inning, and he was in severe danger of giving up more than one run for the first time in 2013.
The tying runs were on base and the go-ahead run was at the plate in Kurt Suzuki. In today’s game, the young starter probably would have been pulled here for a reliever. But not in 2013, and not Matt Harvey. He was left in to try to get out of it.
He got Suzuki to wave at a slider off the plate for the first out. Still pumping 96 MPH as he crossed 100 pitches, Harvey then got Roger Bernadina to pop out to the catcher. Two outs.
The last batter in Harvey’s way was Denard Span. Span was the leadoff hitter for Washington, so the lineup had turned over for a fourth time. This was probably Harvey’s last batter. On his 105th pitch of the night, he got Span to ground out weakly to second to end the inning. He, miraculously, got out of it having only allowed that one run to score.
Harvey not only out-pitched Strasburg, but masterfully gutted through his first real jam of the season. It was just another notch in his ever-growing belt and another feat on top of his historic start to the season, which was already breaking records:
Via @EliasSports: Matt Harvey is 1st in modern era (since 1900) to win his first 4 season starts while allowing no more than 10 hits total.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2013
Davis and Duda both homered again in the eighth, putting the game completely out of reach. The Mets won the first ever Harvey-Strasburg encounter by a score of 7-1.
With barely anyone in attendance for his first start and his next two outings coming on the road, this was the first time Citi Field had been completely electrified by Harvey. It would not be the last. On SNY, Gary Cohen mentioned that, as Harvey left the mound after the seventh, Citi Field let out a roar that he had not heard in the first four seasons of the ballpark’s history. This was the most Mets fans had to cheer about in a long, long while.
“He’s becoming a beloved figure in an awful hurry,” Cohen remarked.