Matt Harvey’s career of highs, lows hits bottom
The final Harvey Day at Citi Field stretched for barely an hour Thursday. It was mop-up duty for the unsightly mess created by Jason Vargas, and Harvey actually pitched worse, left out there to absorb five more runs of punishment by the Braves.
When Mickey Callaway mercifully appeared to take the baseball from Harvey, the manager patted him on the back. Harvey, head down and shoulders slumped, was booed relentlessly on his walk to the dugout.
Now we know those sad, pitiful steps were the last for Harvey with the Mets. Sandy Alderson announced Friday that he will be designated for assignment, a stunning development but not a totally unexpected end to his conflicted career arc in Flushing.
Conflicted because Harvey’s rise to the pinnacle of New York stardom was undone by a myriad of factors, some of his own design. There was Tommy John surgery three months after he started the 2013 All-Star Game. Three years later, Harvey had to be cut and repaired again, this time to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Was the career-threatening injury the result of Harvey boldly pushing past his innings limit during the World Series run the previous October? Or just a coincidence?
“I have no way of knowing that,” Alderson said Friday. “I don’t know if anybody has any way of knowing that.”
Does it matter? Now that Harvey is finished in Flushing, the point is worth mentioning as the Mets push him out the door. During Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, Harvey had a Citi Field crowd of 44,859 hanging on every one of his 111 pitches, chanting his name, wildly cheering each of his nine strikeouts through eight innings.
Little did we realize at the time that that November night was the perfect snapshot of Harvey’s Mets career. The streaking-comet brilliance, fueled by New York’s unconditional love, followed by the crash-and-burn curtain drop, brought on by Harvey persuading Terry Collins to let him finish the game.
Harvey could be bigger than the Mets back then, because they would stomach the too-frequent misfirings of his ego as long as his fastball zipped past hitters at 98 mph and the hooking slider remained virtually unhittable.
When Harvey made an obscene gesture while smiling from his hospital bed, the Mets laughed uncomfortably. When he repeatedly pushed their boundaries — and the GM’s buttons — the Mets chose reluctantly to bend.
As soon as Harvey began to decline, however, the team’s patience had an expiration date. His relationship with Alderson was irreparably broken when he failed to show up for a May 2017 game at Citi Field. By then, Harvey had been reduced to ordinary on the mound, and both sides were counting the days until his free agency at the end of the 2018 season.
Even so, the Mets rolled the dice with Harvey and tendered him a $5.63-million contract for this year. It wasn’t a ton of money for a starting pitcher with Harvey’s pedigree. By hiring Callaway, maybe he could help squeeze out whatever Harvey had left. But the Mets demoted him to the bullpen after four starts (6.00 ERA, .849 OPS) and Harvey refused to be demoted Friday.
“We feel like we failed Matt Harvey,” Callaway said.
It’s more complicated than that, and Harvey never did himself any favors by being difficult — a moody problem child for both his team and the media that documented his every misstep, splashing him on the back page through the highs and lows. Last month, Harvey told off reporters, always a bad idea. But after another sobering relief appearance Thursday, the confused Harvey was almost a sympathetic figure.
Since that World Series burnout, Harvey is 9-19 with a 5.93 ERA, a resume that might have earned him a spring training invite last winter. His fastball limps along at 93 mph now. His slider is a non-factor. He leaves the Mets as perhaps the most celebrated 34-37 pitcher in the sport’s history.
Harvey Days stopped being special a while ago. On Friday, the Mets treated him like anyone else no longer worth the trouble.