Harvey a hero again

With no con­tro­versy, ace right-han­der gives New York the opener

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY BARRY SVR­LUGA

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.

ELSA/GETTY IMAGES

Right-han­der Matt Harvey pitched into the eighth in­ning in Game 1 of the NLCS.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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