The greatest moment in recent Mets history is also the worst. It wasn’t on the field, it happened in the dugout.
In Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, with the Mets facing a 3–1 series deficit, Matt Harvey, capping a post–Tommy John surgery comeback season in which he finished 13–8 with a 2.71 ERA, dragged the Mets through eight innings of shutout baseball. With a 2–0 lead and after more than 100 pitches, manager Terry Collins deputized pitching coach Dan Warthen to tell Harvey he would be removed in favor of closer Jeurys Familia. Harvey had two words: “No way.” He said them to Warthen, and then marched across the dugout and repeated them to Collins. He would not be coming out of the game, he insisted, he wanted the ball, the win, the glory. It was an archetypically heroic and vainglorious demand, as strident as it was inspiring, particularly for despondent Mets fans who’d watched their team give up a lead after seven innings in each of the preceding four games. Harvey was following a script we’d read before, and color commentator Tom Verducci was ready with the parallel: Jack Morris and Tom Kelly in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, when Morris went 10 innings on his way to victory after refusing to be removed. Collins relented, Harvey got his way. And then the Royals got theirs.
That loss, Eric Hosmer’s decision to run on Lucas Duda, and essentially everything that’s happened to the Mets franchise since that moment, has been painful, awkward, or plainly disastrous. And it all hinges on Harvey’s demand.
Harvey was designated for assignment Friday, essentially untethered from the Mets team that selected him seventh overall in the 2010 MLB draft. Harvey has been the living embodiment of Mets fandom since his first start, a hair-raising, 11-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks in 2012.
He was, for many years, my favorite athlete, his foibles as endearing as his moronic posturing. Rooting for Harvey in the early days of his career was like latching onto a young musician on the strength of a demo — the hype preceded him, but the art was unmissable. He threw a bowling-ball four-seam fastball and an exasperatingly hard and diving slider — what scouts call a worm killer. His velocity and bulldog demeanor made him intimidating and exceptional — he wasn’t a graceful athlete, but his power was real. He had the wide hips and determined glare of a player I expected to pitch for the next 15 years. I invested so deeply in Harvey, in the silly Dark Knight nickname he was granted, and in his narrative as an oft-injured party boy with an arm that could cure a cursed franchise. Just two and a half years removed from that moment in the World Series, Harvey is done with the Mets, unable to regain form after he was diagnosed in 2016 with thoracic outlet syndrome, a malady that is exactly as awful as it sounds.
Earlier on Friday, Harvey’s dogged defender and agent Scott Boras was asked whether the demands made on Harvey’s arm after his injuries cost him: “Matt gave it all for his team and city. TOS [thoracic outlet syndrome] resulted immediately thereafter. And as to the medical reasons, that is a opinion only doctors can address.” Modern baseball is defined by pitchers flaming out under the physical and mental pressure of performance. Workhorses are dying and specialists are thriving. Harvey was a little different — he was a star, a genuine attraction at Citi Field, a figure around whom a pitching staff was constructed. That the group that joined him — including Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz — has toiled amid injury and disappointment since the ’15 flameout isn’t much of a surprise. Mets fandom is itself an act of self-harm, and Harvey’s rise (and redemption) was a bowl of ice cream drizzled in cyanide syrup.
His performance in recent years — a terrible 2016, an abysmal 2017, and a desultory 2018 — has seemed a fait accompli. Harvey has long been rumored to be more interested in New York nightlife, supermodels, and perhaps the other scurrilous aspects of stardom — but that mattered little to fans when the sinker was drawing swings-and-misses. The truth is that, for better or worse, New York likes a debauched playboy. Unless he’s losing. In Harvey’s case, he’s turned out like so many before him. But will I forget him at his best? No way.