Commentary

Keep believing the Harvey hype

Mets' Matt may not be pleased, but he's still everything he's cracked up to be

Updated: April 25, 2013, 10:59 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

The easy thing to say would be "Ah-ha. See that. Told you so."

The praise is spiking too fast for New York Mets rising ace Matt Harvey. After his electric start to the 2013 season, the predictions for him have been off the hook. The same goes for the legendary names that were being dropped to describe Harvey's superstar potential, especially after he outdueled Washington's Stephen Strasburg last Friday in a matchup that Harvey publicly said he welcomed. But resist saying the easy thing about Harvey's performance Wednesday, and, instead, dwell on the big picture.

Harvey did nothing to dent the idea that he's a star on the rise. He just didn't get credit for the win. Big difference.

[+] EnlargeHarvey
Elsa/Getty ImagesMatt Harvey wasn't pleased with his performance Wednesday.

Harvey wasn't the main story of the Mets' rousing 7-3 come-from-behind, extra-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

But Harvey was still cracking fastballs into his catcher's glove at 98 mph. The Mets' 24-year-old right-hander still struck out seven in his six innings of work, and he allowed only four hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter with the Mets down two. On at least four or five Dodgers at-bats, Harvey left the L.A. hitters looking back out at the mound at him -- as if to say "How'd he do that?" -- after they'd swung through one of his curveballs that fell off the table, or they were left so frozen by one of his changeups that their bat never left their shoulder. For Harvey, who began the night with a 0.93 ERA and 4-0 record, all of that is the norm.

What was disorienting was the sight of the Dodgers rapping out three hits in the first inning alone, or -- did this really happen too? -- the way Dodgers cleanup hitter Matt Kemp sent a fly ball sneaking just over the fence in the right-field corner in the sixth. It was a two-run homer, all right, but it was only verified after the umpires huddled and stole off the field to see the replay. Which only cued some predictable jokes that the umps didn't believe Harvey could be hit that hard, either.

When Harvey left the game, the Mets were trailing, 3-1. And by then he'd also banged a double off the left-field wall and scored the Mets' first run. But they got him off the hook for the loss by tying the game at 3 in the bottom of the ninth. And then they won it on Jordany Valdespin's walk-off grand slam in the 10th that ended with the entire team running onto the field to greet Valdespin at home plate.

"Anytime something like that happens, it's pretty electric," Harvey said with a smile. "That -- that was awesome."

And his own game?

"Well, you guys know me -- in my mind, I sucked," Harvey said. "I have to be better."

The way Harvey calmly went on to describe his performance, you'd have thought he'd just gotten rocked. And he didn't. Not even close.

"I've got work to do," he insisted.

"I've got to move on from this and get ready for my next start."

"I didn't have my good fastball. I knew I was going to have to keep the ball down."

The last quote was the funniest, considering his velocity sat at 96 mph most of the game, and when asked if it was his control he disliked about his fastball, Harvey shot back, "Oh no. My location was fine." He also fessed up to having the best changeup he's had all year.

So what bugged him about his four-hitter?

Mostly, that he wasn't perfect. Mainly, that he made the two-run mistake to Kemp with a fastball that he meant to send tailing away from the Dodgers' cleanup hitter but left over the middle of the plate instead.

"I was hoping it was going to get in a nice little wind drift," Harvey joked.

Harvey is still only 15 starts into his big-league career. And yet he has been so good so fast since arriving last season from Triple-A Buffalo and promptly striking out 11 in his debut, by Wednesday he had people straining to try to put just how impressive he's been in context.

Sports on Earth's Howard Medgal figured out that Harvey's early-career results stand up against the early careers of virtually any early phenom in baseball history. In his 10 starts last season, he struck out better than 10.6 batters per nine innings. To put that in perspective, the five pitchers with a better K/9 rate in their first season of at least 50 innings were Kerry Wood, Stephen Strasburg, Dwight Gooden, Mark Prior and Hideo Nomo.

This season? Harvey's stuff is so good, he got 24 swings and misses in 94 pitches in his season-opening start against a baffled San Diego team. The Mets won. He threw seven innings of one-run ball against the Phillies with nine strikeouts -- a performance that moved Phillies old-school manager Charlie Manuel to lose his fool head over Harvey and -- oh no ... don't do it -- drop the 'S' word, saying Harvey reminded him of Tom Seaver. Then Harvey wasn't shy about publicly embracing the head-to-head matchup against Strasburg, though Strasburg's had a two-year head start on him in the majors. Friday night, with Doc Gooden -- a childhood hero and another Mets legend he's been compared to -- watching from the stands, Harvey went out and outpitched the Nationals star in the Mets' 7-1 win, at times touching 99 mph on the radar gun.

He came into Wednesday night with these amazing numbers trailing him like a comet's tail.

Of course, the sight of Prior's, Gooden's and Wood's names on Medgal's list are a reminder of all that can go wrong.

But if Harvey stays healthy, he has the four-pitch repertoire to keep swatting aside hitters. He has the competitive makeup. So far, anyway, he seems to strike the right balance between showing a little swagger and being one of the guys. He laughed when asked if he thought his double Wednesday night was out of the park, saying, "I was just happy to put the ball in play." He seems genuinely loose and able to enjoy other people's successes -- Valdespin's dramatic blast, Mike Baxter's ability to leg out a leadoff double in the ninth to start the game-tying rally -- even on a night he kept griping about not living up to his own standards. That goes a long way, too.

"Tonight is all about winning," he said. "The real people you need to talk to are the bullpen and the defensive players, and obviously the hitters in that last inning ... for putting a hurt on them."

A latecomer arrived at Harvey's locker now and tried to steer the conversation back to him, back to what a sensation he's been. And again, Harvey wouldn't hear it.

"In my mind I go out to throw up zeros every night -- and I didn't do that," he said. "I didn't like it."

No reason to call off the hype. There's nothing not to like about that.

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