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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Matt Harvey: King of New York, and the city's top ace

Mets' Matt Harvey pitches in the first inning

Mets' Matt Harvey pitches in the first inning against the Yankees at Citi Field. (May 28, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

CC Sabathia is paid like an ace, and Hiroki Kuroda has pitched like one. But in this city, at this time, Matt Harvey stands alone as most deserving of the title.

Too soon? Not really.

Sabathia's diminished velocity is a strong indication that the herculean workloads over the years have finally caught up to him. Kuroda has flourished during his Bronx tenure, but would hardly be characterized as an intimidator.

With Harvey, it's the total package. A five-pitch artist that features the power of a high-90s fastball, precision command and the steely mindset uncommon in most 24-year-olds only 20 starts deep into their careers.

But don't take our word for it. When a scout was asked yesterday to choose between the top three pitchers in the New York market, the answer was instantaneous: Harvey.

"Heck yeah," he said.

And it wasn't even close.

The longevity of Sabathia looks good on a Hall of Fame application, but he's labored recently -- 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his last five starts. Kuroda has excelled as the de facto ace, but in this comparison, we're talking next level, and picking up the slack for Sabathia is not the same as overpowering hitters every trip to the mound.

That's what Harvey does, and did again Tuesday night with 10 strikeouts over eight innings in a no-decision against the Yankees.

Only an ace of Harvey's stature can make a manager feel invincible in the days leading up to his start. Harvey gives Terry Collins one less thing to worry about. And to briefly entertain the possibility of a legitimate, honest-to-goodness winning streak, launched by a Harvey-fueled momentum surge.

"With this guy going, the answer is yes," Collins said. "Because he stops people. He takes these big games and runs with them."

The only thing that even keeps the Harvey hyperbole train on its rails is the still medium sample size of his 20 starts. Heading into Tuesday night, Harvey's 10.02 strikeouts/nine innings rate was the best in the National League since his July 26 debut and fourth overall.

So how much does experience matter in the ace debate? Not much, apparently. Doc Gooden, as a 19-year-old rookie, went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 276 strikeouts way back in 1984. He then followed it up with a Cy Young season: 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts.

Like Harvey, nothing between the lines scared him, from his first major-league pitch. "I didn't think it was that big of a deal," Gooden said. "In Harvey's situation, and when I came up, you have the stuff. You're learning on the job. You just keep going to your strength until make you change."

To Joe Girardi, the tipping point in becoming a true ace is all about timing. "You hate to put that term on them because A) you don't want to put too much pressure on him, and B) you haven't seen him in a whole lot of different scenarios," the Yankees manager said.

"You kind of look forward to each step. How's he going to handle this situation, whether it's a big division game, or a big [Subway Series] game or his first playoff game. Then, once they clear those hurdles, and if they have success, usually people don't have a problem saying, 'That's our ace.' "

The Mets skipped that vetting process with Harvey, who pushes himself harder than anyone from the outside. That trait is inextricably wound in the DNA of an ace.

"He doesn't shy away from anything," Collins said, "so he's a little different from the normal second-year guy."

And a notch above any other starting pitcher in New York.

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