Matt Harvey needs help in his quest for greatness

Matt Harvey looks up as he walks to

Matt Harvey looks up as he walks to the dugout after the top of the sixth inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field. (May 12, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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Surprised? Don't be.

Matt Harvey is a potentially great pitcher on an undeniably bad team, which is why he walked away empty-handed yet again Sunday despite a performance that was merely good in the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Pirates.

Get used to it, because without significant upgrades to this roster, Harvey is going to feel pretty lonely out there this season. While he didn't have his A-plus stuff against Pittsburgh, Harvey still allowed only two runs over seven innings, which normally is more than adequate for a win.

But not in Flushing, where Harvey was left to explain everything he couldn't do Sunday. Despite a lack of his usual pinpoint control, Harvey's biggest problem wasn't throwing the baseball. The issue was the Mets' chronic inability to make contact with it that doomed him.

"He did his job," manager Terry Collins said. "He can't do all the hitting for us. Matt did exactly what we wanted. He gave us an opportunity to get in the winning column."

The Mets again refused to return the favor. Harvey stayed undefeated (4-0) when Mike Baxter's RBI single tied the score at 2 in the bottom of the seventh inning. But this was his fourth straight no-decision, and that's astonishing when you consider he has a 1.98 ERA during that stretch with 30 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings.

In those four games, the Mets have scored a total of six runs while Harvey has been on the mound. When Clint Barmes homered to lead off the third, it was only the fifth time Harvey had trailed in 62 innings this season. And still it's not enough.

"Obviously I'm not going to go out and do what I did the other night every time," Harvey said.

He was talking about Tuesday's near perfect game, a 12-strikeout performance that the Mets won in the 10th, too late to reward Harvey for allowing just one hit over nine scoreless innings. That revved up the Harvey hysteria to unforeseen levels heading into his Mother's Day start at Citi Field, but what the 28,404 fans got instead was a bit of a reality check.

As talented as Harvey is, as driven as he is to succeed, it's impossible to be supernatural over the course of 32 starts. There are times when Harvey will look human, which the Pirates reminded everyone Sunday. On those occasions his greatest enemy might reside between his ears.

Once Harvey began warming up in the bullpen, he could tell he didn't have the same feel for his pitches as he did before Tuesday's game. Even so, he retired the first five batters before Pedro Alvarez ripped an 88-mph changeup into centerfield for a double.

At that point, John Buck could read that Harvey was a little off, and the catcher's priority turned to propping him up. Even if his pitches weren't as unhittable as they have been recently, Harvey -- through his body language and presence -- had to give the impression the next one could be. Or the one after that.

"He didn't feel overpowering and physically perfect," Buck said. "But he pitched to contact when he had to. It's not like they were hitting him all over the yard."

Hardly. The Pirates scored both runs in the third inning, the second one coming on Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly, but Harvey stranded two by getting Jordy Mercer on a pop-up. He surrendered only two singles and a hit batsman the rest of the way in giving the Mets plenty of time to catch up.

Ultimately, Harvey was left with a bunch of consolation prizes. For what it's worth, he has allowed only 69 hits through his first 18 career games, the lowest in Mets history for a stretch of that length and tied for the fourth fewest in the majors since 1921.

The numbers should continue to pile up for Harvey. But in relation to the Mets crumbling around him, those statistics will begin to feel somewhat hollow. And for all the anticipation building up to Sunday's start, Harvey couldn't live up to the legend that already has been prematurely scripted for him.

It won't be the last time that happens, either. Even the great ones -- or pitchers maybe destined for greatness -- can't do it all by themselves.

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