Matt Harvey has a way of inspiring everybody around the Mets, including the fans. Recently, a few of them counted his strikeouts with placards, but not the traditional "K" signs introduced for Dwight Gooden. For Harvey, creative folks in the stands raised their game for the stretch drive by displaying photos from "The Honeymooners" showing Ralph Kramden and a character named Harvey.
The pitcher actually does have some of the swagger of the big galoot who menaced Ralph in the episode called "The Bensonhurst Bomber."
The resemblance stops there, though. No way does Matt Harvey back down from a fight or a challenge the way the other Harvey did after he saw Ralph knock out an even bigger galoot with one punch. The ace of the Mets staff and core of the club wants to be front and center when everything is on the line.
So this, finally, is his time. He gets his chance to show his competitive soul in September and, he hopes, beyond. If he is like any fictional character, it is Jimmy Chitwood, the kid in "Hoosiers" who insisted on taking the last shot and assured his coach, "I'll make it."
"This is the time of year that we've talked about, that he has talked about," Terry Collins said before the Mets' 9-4 win over the Phillies last night at Citi Field. "The discourse all summer long, when the innings thing started to rear its ugly head, was that Matt said, 'I'm pitching in the playoffs.' ''
Harvey has not been crazy about being part of a six-man rotation or being forced to skip starts, which he probably must do twice more during the regular season. But he is going along with it.
"In all of the discussions we've had, he said, 'Listen, I'll do it, but I'm pitching in October.' That just tells you what he's looking forward to. It's going to be fun going into this month, it's going to be fun, watching this guy compete," the manager said.
No way is he going to let anyone shut him down, the way the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg three years ago when the latter, like Harvey this year, was coming off Tommy John surgery. Harvey always has shone brighter when the stakes were bigger, such as being immediately better in the majors than he was in the minors.
Now that the Mets have finally given him an occasion, he is determined to rise to it. Before his hiccup in the fifth inning last night, when he gave up three runs, he had allowed only one run in his 31 innings since the Mets moved back into first place. Entering Wednesday night, he had started the game following a Mets loss 12 times. In 10 of those games -- all but the two during his dead-arm period -- he gave up two or fewer runs. Harvey wasn't spectacular Wednesday night, but he did empty the tank, leaving with one out in the seventh with a 7-4 lead. Afterward, the team said he felt dehydrated and a little weak.
He has spent a lifetime preparing for this stretch run. He is the baseball equivalent of a gym rat, like the man whose hand he shook on the mound last night, new St. John's basketball coach Chris Mullin ("I'm a huge Met fan. I always have been," Mullin said before he threw a high, hard one across home plate).
Harvey is not affably approachable like David Wright, or the way a young Gooden was. His personality has an edge. But maybe that helps him on the mound. It sure doesn't hurt him in the clubhouse, where he is a leader. When the Mets were flailing this season, he was always diplomatic about getting no run support. When all the talk was about the future of the young arms, he kept saying, "We're trying to win now."
He approaches situations with the confident air of Kramden, responding to the pool-room little guy who said, "My friend Harvey is even bigger than me." Said Ralph: "I've got a friend Shirley that's bigger than you."
On the Mets, nobody is bigger than Harvey. It is going to be fascinating, watching him in September.