John Buck has seen all this Matt Harvey mania before, only then the phenom went by a different name: Zack Greinke.
It took Greinke, the No. 14 prospect in MLB before the 2004 season, a little longer to establish himself as one of the game’s best. He suffered from two conditions that Harvey doesn’t have to worry about:
1) A social anxiety disorder that nearly caused him to leave the game
2) He pitched in Kansas City, more famous for being mistaken as a part of Kansas (fact: it’s in Missouri) than for being home to a legitimate baseball team.
But when Greinke took hold of the ace mantle, he never let go.
Just like Harvey’s starting performances are marketed as
“Harvey Day” by the Mets, Greinke underwent “Zack Mania” in 2009 when he was 16-8 with an MLB-best 2.16 ERA en route to an American League Cy Young Award.
Buck sees similarities between the manner in which the two dominant pitchers handle success, if not always the method.
“Zack is a little different,” Buck said, pausing before delivering the punch line: “He just didn’t talk to anybody.”
There’s obviously an underlying seriousness to his comment given Greinke’s social anxiety issue.
“That’s a unique situation,” he said. “Harvey, he’s got the ability to zone it all out, lock it in when it’s his day. And evaluate when he’s having success, how he can get better.”
For example, heading into Tuesday’s start against the Yankees, Harvey was 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA. But he was “only” throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes, a number he wanted to improve upon.
On the mound facing one of the more powerful lineups in baseball — their 61 home runs are seventh in MLB — Harvey responded by throwing 80 of his 114 pitches for strikes – 70.1 percent.
It’s that kind of hunger for greater success in the face of plain old great success that Buck says sets Harvey apart.
Well, that and a 98 mph fastball.
“Every game I’ve caught him he seems amped up,” Buck said. “Everybody says that ‘it seems like this game he’s amped up.’ I really think that’s him. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Yankees – I think that obviously adds to it, ‘cause everybody adds the excitement. But other than it being more excitement I don’t think he ups it any more. He pitches high RPMs already. That’s him naturally.”
Postgame, the pitcher has a different personality.
Even after an exciting walkoff win against Mariano Rivera, Harvey stoically stands by his locker as wave after wave of reporters crush him close, shining camera lights in his eyes and questioning his every emotion, reaction and, of course, pitch. Harvey calmly answers the questions, sometimes in a voice so low that digital recorders struggle to pick up the words. It’s a startling contrast to the guy who just went to battle with a baseball.
“I don’t get extra-hyped for a certain game,” Harvey said. “I gotta stick to my approach and I can’t alter that because of who we’re playing and the hype that’s surrounding that. I have to do my job, go out there and throw up zeroes as much as I can, and that’s my focus. You have to go pitch for pitch. No matter who we’re playing, that’s going to be my approach.”
Buck has seen that approach before.
Worked out pretty well for Greinke.