Harvey a hero again
With no controversy, ace right-hander gives New York the opener
new york — Matt Harvey wants to play the superhero, and there was a time in his career — a more innocent time — when he seemed out of central casting for the role. He owns a massive right arm and chip on his right shoulder to match. He wanted this stage Saturday night, the largest group of New York Mets fans ever to gather at Citi Field, standing and chant- ing his name as the innings ticked by.
Forget the questions and the controversy, for now. When Harvey walked off the mound Saturday night, he was hero rather than villain, solid team guy rather than ostracized pariah. This is October, closer to Halloween than Labor Day. What matters at the moment in Queens: The Mets are still playing, and Harvey’s still pitching.
Thus, the National League Championship Series opened with a dominant performance from Harvey that delivered a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs at frigid but fun Citi Field. The Mets got homers from the suddenly
Ruthian Daniel Murphy as well as catcher Travis d’Arnaud. More importantly, they got the brand of performance Harvey believes he can deliver, 72/3 innings of four-hit, two-run ball in which he struck out nine and walked two.
With flame-throwing rookie Noah Syndergaard lined up to face Cubs Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta on Sunday night here, Harvey’s ability to outduel veteran Chicago lefty Jon Lester — signed to a six-year, $155 million contract in the offseason — put all of New York at ease. Righthander Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ best pitcher from opening day into the playoffs, would pitch in Chicago in Game 3.
Lester is the ace the Cubs felt they needed to have in order to get here, the one with experience in games exactly like Saturday’s. He represented the Cubs’ internal feeling about their own preparedness, that their timetable to reach such a stage didn’t align with what others thought. It was, and is, now.
Harvey is the ace the Mets had in hand, the one they didn’t know they’d be able to rely on at this late date. He represented the Mets’ emergence from their decade in darkness, a rebuild around young power arms that might have to be coddled into October but would throw gas when they got there.
While Lester provided a leader for a fairly young Cubs rotation, Harvey provided the lone bit of controversy in an otherwise magical summer in Queens. As August turned to September, and the Mets moved in on the division title, Harvey and Scott Boras, his agent, said the pitcher was not going to throw more than 180 innings on his surgically repaired right elbow. Harvey, in the midst of a back-and-forth with his employer, came off looking selfish. For a Mets fan base that wanted only to embrace this team, the Dark Knight provided the only dark nights.
But on the day the Mets clinched, Harvey met with Manager Terry Collins and told him the shackles were off. The Mets monitored his work down the stretch, and he threw just 91 pitches in six innings between Sept. 26 and his Oct. 12 start in Game 3 of the division series against the Dodgers.
Harvey’s turn Saturday night was on a regular four days’ rest, and from the first pitch, he looked the part of a rested pitcher in rhythm. He struck out the first two men he faced, Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber. He needed just nine pitches to get through the opening frame. When he struck out David Ross and Lester to end the third, he had blown through the Cubs lineup in 29 pitches, 23 of which were strikes.
Lester couldn’t quite match that, but only barely. There appears to have been some sort of decree that Murphy be in the center of things for the Mets, and with two outs in the first, he crushed Lester’s 1-1 offering out to right. It’s not just that Murphy has hit home runs in three consecutive postseason games. It’s the pitchers against whom he has done it: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and now Lester, Cy Young winners and World Series heroes, the best in the game.
But even as Harvey set down the first 12 Cubs he faced, Lester settled in, too. And when Harvey hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch to open the fifth, and Starlin Castro followed with a line-drive double that momentarily left Mets center fielder Juan Lagares flat-footed, the game was tied.
“He’s ready for these moments,” Arrieta said of Lester before the game. “He’s shown us so many times in the past.”
Harvey, though, wanted badly to show Mets fans in the present. So after allowing the tying run, he was in the middle of the inning in which the Mets took the lead — failing to move two runners up with a bunt, reaching on the fielder’s choice, and watching as Curtis Granderson lined a two-out single to center that plated Lagares to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.
Harvey worked a perfect sixth, even calmly fielding Fowler’s line drive that careened off his right arm and settled on the mound. When d’Arnaud drilled his homer to straightaway center field, where it landed in the big apple that rises for every Mets long ball, Harvey had just one more issue to navigate. In the seventh, he walked Rizzo and then failed to field a comebacker that glanced off the mound and bounced to short, an infield single for Jorge Soler.
So in a 3-1 game, he had some work. Here’s how he handled it: fastballs of 95 mph, 96 mph and 96 mph to promptly sit down Javier Baez for the second out. And then a wicked 2-2 change-up that pinch hitter Tommy La Stella swung right through.
With that done, Harvey pumped his fist as he left the mound. That he emerged for the eighth was a surprise. He got the first two outs before rookie Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber took him way out to right-center.
So instead of strutting off the mound, head held high, he stared at the ground until he reached the dugout. The crowd, though, serenaded him anyway. Matt Harvey was, once again, a unifying hero who brought the Mets — and New York — together rather than tearing them apart.
Right-hander Matt Harvey pitched into the eighth inning in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Mets outfielder Juan Lagares slides in safely on Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning of New York’s Game 1 win in the NLCS.