The Dark Knight finds career in darkness as the Mets regretfully cut ties with a former phenom.
It was a moment that could have been one for the ages. Maybe even as it was happening, Matt Harvey could see the future, the celebrity, the place in history.
Harvey marched into the dugout on Nov. 1, 2015, having finished off the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series by setting the Royals down in order, and he wasn’t wrong to believe that he was the best pitcher on the planet at that moment. He had kept the Mets alive with eight scoreless innings and with a tworun lead, as New York went meekly in the bottom of the inning, he wanted the ball.
He argued openly with then-manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. He got the ball and all he had to do was finish it. Finish the game and he is a folk hero, the one who wanted the ball and would create the lasting image. He would be Tom Seaver. Numbers would be retired. The story would be told like Tommy Agee’s catches or Mookie Wilson rolling a grounder between the legs of Bill Buckner.
But he didn’t. He fell apart in the ninth. The Mets lost the game and the World Series. Injuries followed. Off the field he ran a nightlife that found him on Page Six more than the sports pages. The arm and confidence that were so dominant on that night in 2015 abandoned him.
It all came to an end late last week, all the dreams gone. The Mets reached the end of the line, unceremoniously putting his career with the team in the past, trying to send him to the minors first and when he refused announcing that he would be designated for assignment, headed to waivers. It is the end of his Mets career and maybe the end of his career.
“Matt has been a cornerstone of certainly my tenure here,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “Tremendous prospect at the time when I arrived. Tremendous accomplishments during the course of my tenure here. Very unfortunate difficult conclusion not really of his making.
“This is somebody that’s gone through two serious and career-threatening injuries with very lengthy rehabilitations and made every effort to return to the championship form that he exhibited so often over the years. Obviously there were challenges along the way for him and for us. But those challenges were always worth meeting. Not just because of his ability, for me at least, and I think many others. Matt is an appealing, likable, vulnerable individual. ... He was appreciated for what he brought to the New York Mets.”
What exactly did he bring other than disappointment? He was bound for greatness it seemed as he made his way through the organization. A first-round draft pick of the prior regime, Harvey was the prize of the system and it paid off as he became the starter in the 2013 AllStar Game at Citi Field. The Yankees had Derek Jeter, and Harvey was the celebrity for the Mets.
He had that part down, the celebrity, a regular at nightclubs and on the arm of models, all openly flaunted. But the arm that brought him there failed him. Tommy John surgery was followed by another surgery, more serious this time, to repair thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). While Tommy John surgery has become a common step in a pitcher’s career, TOS can strip pitchers of their effectiveness, and that seems to be the case with Harvey.
He had moments, the velocity return- ing to the mid-90s on his fastball. But the other pitches never came back, and his command of any of his pitches was shaky. So less than three years after that night at Citi Field in the World Series, he made his last appearance on the mound for the Mets on May 3.
It wasn’t a start, but mop-up duty out of the bullpen, and when he wasn’t up to that task, surrendering five runs, he headed to the dugout, but there was no fight this time. Instead there was just the sound of the fans booing as he failed again.
This came shortly after another offfield incident, Harvey heading to a nightclub in Los Angeles the night before a game in San Diego. A glamorous opening at a club, a night to feel like a celebrity. When it was exposed with clubgoers taking photos, Alderson couldn’t hide his distaste for the situation, saying he would have been disappointed only if it was unexpected.
There was a quote from an old manager, Dick Williams, in the late 1960s when marijuana use was becoming prevalent as a counterculture drug and he barked something to the effect that if you get caught with it you’d better be hitting .340 at the All-Star break.
When Harvey was at the nightclub he wasn’t hitting .340 at the All-Star break. The celebrity chase isn’t so cute anymore when it’s all you have.
“I try not to let emotion interfere with decision-making, but empathy is part of making decisions,” Alderson said. “I like Matt. In spite of all the stuff that’s gone on, certainly because of a lot of the stuff that’s gone on, I really like Matt. He’s a human being. As I said before, he’s a vulnerable human being and kind of leaves himself open for those of us who know him and semi-trusts at least. We’re going to miss him in many ways.”
Maybe so. It’s hard to see just how right now. As a pitcher? Maybe someday, but there’s little hint of that? As a celebrity? The Mets never really wanted him to be that.
The number will never be retired. The moment never happened.
Most kids dream of that moment, standing on the mound in a World Series game and know it will never come true.
For Matt Harvey, he could always see the moment of greatness. It’s this moment that he never could have seen coming.
Mets picher Matt Harvey never regained his effectiveness after two career-threatening injuries resulted in surgeries.