MINNEAPOLIS -- The final hurdle keeping Mets sensation Matt Harvey from throwing a no-hitter in only his 13th big-league start stood in the lefthanded batter's box. It took the form of Twins slugger Justin Morneau.
At least that's the way batterymate John Buck saw it from behind the plate Saturday afternoon, when the Mets beat the Twins, 4-2, and Harvey flirted with history.
"That's the at-bat I felt we needed to get past, just because you have the righties coming up after that, and then some of the younger, less-experienced guys," Buck said. "If you want to shoot for it, that would be the recipe to do it. Morneau was our nemesis today, as he showed."
Indeed. With two outs in the seventh inning, Morneau pulled a 2-and-2 slider off the rightfield foul pole to end Harvey's chase.
"No, I knew, I knew," said Harvey, who allowed one run, two hits and two walks and struck out six in eight innings. "I peeked a couple of times. But I really didn't know until the fourth or fifth inning or so and I knew that all the guys were making plays. The biggest thing was blocking out that there weren't any hits."
That Harvey could even threaten to pull off such a feat underscored why he has fans buzzing about his future.
Chilly temperatures at Target Field created conditions that should have made life miserable for pitchers. Under similar conditions Friday night, pitchers from both teams struggled to maintain a grip, making it nearly impossible to throw breaking pitches with any bite.
Saturday, despite the 35-degree temperature at first pitch, Harvey wore short sleeves and showed command of his full arsenal against the Twins, who at times struggled to make even loud outs.
"He's a different pitcher," said one talent evaluator, who noted Harvey's improved control of his slider and curve.
He got just enough offensive help when the Mets took a 4-0 lead in the fifth by collecting seven straight hits for the first time since 2001.
"You go through that lineup two times and they don't have a hit yet, you know he's got the kind of stuff to go through them a third time, too," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Aware that his pitch count was climbing and that he could be capped at about 105, Harvey emptied the tank as he went along. The scoreboard reaffirmed his decision, flashing velocity readings of 96 mph as his fastball gained life in later innings, similar to Tigers ace Justin Verlander. "Very Verlander-ish," the scout said.
In the dugout, Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen huddled to discuss how long they should let Harvey press on. In rightfield, Marlon Byrd wondered if he could throw a man out at first if a hard-hit grounder wound up in the outfield.
And in his mind, Harvey resolved to "get a little bit extra" out of his arm. He managed to do so until the moment Morneau made contact. "I was talking to it," said Buck, who hoped the drive would hook foul. "It didn't listen."
Instead, Harvey settled for his third straight impressive start. He allowed another hit in the eighth before closer Bobby Parnell, despite giving up a run, got the save in his first chance of the season.
Harvey improved to 3-0 with an ERA of 0.82. In 22 innings, he has given up only six hits.
Said Collins: "Absolutely brilliant."