Ten years ago, it was pretty rough to be a Mets fan. Seven straight playoff-less seasons had come and gone, and the team was still not set up to contend any time soon, leaving the fanbase downtrodden and dispirited. So when Matt Harvey burst onto the scene and took the league by storm in 2013, the impact it had cannot be overstated. It was a great statistical pitching season, of course, but it was so much more than that for Mets fans. Harvey represented a beacon of hope; a light at the end of the tunnel and a vision into the next great Mets team. He took over the city and ignited a passion in the fanbase that hadn’t been seen in years.
It didn’t take long for him to entrench himself as not only one of the best young, rising stars in the sport, but one of the best pitchers in the game, period. The charismatic ace became a multimedia star and a total phenomenon almost overnight.
Here at Amazin’ Avenue, we felt it might be worth it to look back at a different time in Mets baseball, and re-tell the story of that transcendent season, 10 years later. To do so, we’ll look back at each of Harvey’s amazing 26 starts that year, 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.
We’ll begin today with his first start of the year, April 3rd, 2013 against the Padres.
Coming off his successful but brief rookie season in 2012, Matt Harvey’s sophomore season was probably the most interesting storyline about the Mets entering 2013. In a more primitive time in pitching prospect evaluation, analysts pegged Harvey as more of a mid-rotation arm while he was in the minors. But with the upside he flashed in 2012, fans started dreaming about a more exciting Harvey than the one we were promised.
Still, the young Harvey showed some signs that he wasn’t quite there yet in 2012; a high walk rate combined with a low BABIP indicated Harvey was probably due for some regression in 2013. Before Harvey’s first start of the year, AA polled the community for season projections for the team’s young starting pitcher. James Kannengeiser preached conservatism, opining that Harvey was unlikely to repeat his 2012 success as the league saw him more, though his 90th percentile outcome was still probably a staff ace. In the article, James linked the now-famous Adam Rubin tweet about what scouts thought of him as a prospect:
“Pelfrey without the split or breaking ball”
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) July 12, 2012
James’s 2013 projection for Harvey’s age-24 season was a very reasonable 3.76 ERA in 181 IP. That lined up with how he was viewed as a prospect.
Harvey got the honor of starting the team’s second game in his first full season, on April 3rd. A sparse crowd gathered on a brisk and windy Wednesday night at Citi Field for this game. Game time temperature was recorded at 44 degrees with winds gusting up to 21 MPH, and conditions worsened as the game went on. The cold in the air couldn’t cool off the Mets bats on this night, though. After a 13-run performance on Opening Day, the Mets bats came back and put up eight more runs against Clayton Richard and the Padres in this one, highlighted by home runs by Lucas Duda, John Buck, and Ike Davis.
But the real exciting action was on the mound, where Harvey took the mound for the first time in 2013 and began to author a season absolutely nobody saw coming, and it started from the very first batter he faced. He struck Everth Cabrera on four pitches, all fastballs. And the second hitter? A three-pitch strikeout. Once again, all fastballs.
“Wait a minute, who is this Matt Harvey?” Mets fans probably thought watching this.
That was merely setting the tone for the rest of the night. He got Carlos Quentin to pop out to end that first inning, and then went back out there for the second and struck out two more in another perfect frame. He got through the third in order as well, before finally allowing a hit and a walk in the fourth, but a pickoff and a ground ball double play got him through that inning. Those were the only baserunners Harvey allowed until the seventh, when he walked Quentin, but that was all he allowed. He struck out two more in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
Harvey was in total control all game long. Flashing a fastball with more life than it did in 2012, and a harder, tighter slider than the one he threw the year before, Harvey made a mockery of the Padres hitters all night long. He had them waving at the slider off the plate and way behind on the fastball. No Padres hitter was comfortable taking hacks on this night, and it wasn’t just because of the cold weather.
In total, he struck out ten Padres hitters over seven impressive innings on 94 pitches. He faced only one batter over the minimum. None of the Padres baserunners made it to second base against him. It was sheer, utter dominance.
The fans in attendance, for their part, seemed to understand exactly what they were seeing. The few and very cold Flushing faithful in attendance got increasingly louder with every punchout, and by the seventh were on their feet for Harvey. This wasn’t just a great start. This was a coming out party.
The Mets bullpen faltered a bit in the 8th and 9th—if you can believe that—allowing four runs to the Padres over in the final two innings and causing Bobby Parnell to have to come in and put out the fire, but the Mets had already put up those eight runs earlier. The Mets held on to win 8-4, and Harvey got his first win of 2013.
Harvey had some good starts in his rookie year, but this was the first time in his career he caught people’s attention by completely taking over a game. The stuff had visibly jumped from 2012, the control looked refined, and now Matt Harvey suddenly had the makings of an ace. Gifs of his now-wicked slider started making the rounds the next day.
It was only one start, but Mets fans immediately started raving about what they had just seen. Suddenly a dull, lifeless team had a vibrant, young, and exciting reason to tune in every fifth day. The best pitching prospect the Mets had promoted since Mike Pelfrey suddenly looked like the best pitching prospect they’ve promoted since Dwight Gooden.
The rabid excitement surrounding Harvey after just one start was pretty well demonstrated in Jeff Paternostro’s morning news the next day, with the URL aptly reading “Matt Harvey Matt Harvey Matt Harvey Matt Harvey.”
Harvey was already getting attention from not just Mets fans, but his peers as well:
Matt Harvey is my new favorite pitcher outside of current and former teammates!! He's nasty— David Price (@DAVIDprice24) April 4, 2013
It was only one start, but Matt Harvey’s star was already starting to grow.