Unlike in their last playoff series, there was no need for the New York Mets’ offense to bail Matt Harvey out this time.
Not that Harvey was bad in a pivotal Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he certainly wasn’t what the Mets, their front office coaching staff or fans had hoped for, when he allowed a trio of second-inning runs while the Dodgers bolted to an early 3-0 lead before Harvey eventually settled in as New York responded with an immediate offensive outburst in a 13-7 win.
And although Harvey finished that night with three scoreless innings, he produced virtually the same results that night as rookie Steven Matz’ three run, five-inning effort against Los Angeles in Game 4.
The only difference was that Matz was going against ace Clayton Kershaw in a 3-1 loss. Yet unfairly, Harvey was credited by some with keeping the Mets in Game 3, while Matz was discredited for not doing the same one game later.
Most fans and those in the media, though, rightfully questioned Harvey’s performance against the Dodgers, particularly in the wake of innings limits and Harvey initially siding with his agent Scott Boras over his apparent desire to do what was expected of him in terms of helping to lead his team to possible World Series title.
“I know there’s been a lot of speculation going on over the past month and I kind of wanted to stop all that and do everything I could for the team,” Harvey told the media after dominating the Chicago Cubs in the Mets’ 4-2 win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citi Field on Saturday night.
Twenty-seven nights earlier, Harvey’s loyalties and heart came under fire during an 11-2 regular season loss to the New York Yankees on September 20.
Following talk of Harvey being limited to just 180 innings and that he might not go more than 70 or 80 pitches in a postseason game, Harvey lasted just 77 pitches and left after five innings, despite cruising with a 1-0 lead over the Yankees. That was right after Harvey made comments in support of Boras’ wish to place strict limits on him, rather than giving cause to think Harvey would do all he could to help the Mets win a championship.
Further exacerbating those issues was Harvey being the only Met to arrive late for a mandatory team workout prior to Game 1 of the NLDS.
So to produce only the same as Matz did in the inaugural postseason games of their respective careers, on top of all of the earlier drama surrounding Harvey, the outing against the Dodgers further painted the so-called Dark Knight as anything but a Mets superhero.
“After the first go-round, I definitely wasn’t happy, although we won, and that was the more important thing,” Harvey said after beating the Cubs.
He mainly did the rest of his talking with his pitching arm, even after a Cubs lined drive “dented it” (as Harvey said), before Harvey showed grit by recovering to make a heads-up putout at first base and keep pitching — all the way until closer Jeurys Familia finished Chicago off with a 4-out save — despite getting pelted by that hard shot on a chilly evening.
Although Harvey said he “was a little worried” about the cold during his pregame warmup in the bullpen, first baseman Michael Cuddyer noticed the change in Harvey’s focus right away.
“You could tell, he had it in his eyes when he took the mound,” Cuddyer said. “He wasn’t going to be denied, and he pitched like it.”
Perfect over the first four innings, Harvey allowed the Cubs to tie the game on a hit batter and a long double by first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the top of the fifth inning. But once the Mets rallied with three more runs, Harvey was economically able to get through 7 2/3 innings, on 97 pitches — 64 for strikes — as he allowed just two runs on four hits, while striking out nine batters and walking only two. Chicago also missed on 42 percent of its swings, according to SNY TV. All of that while passing 200 total innings for the season, Boras’ preferences be damned.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “[Harvey’s] command was outrageous tonight, and therein lies the game… he was absolutely on top of his game.”
That should, for now, put all of those earlier questions to rest. Yet for anyone still doubting Harvey and whether his motivation remains team-first, Maddon’s counterpart, Terry Collins, offered some reassurance after the Mets drew first blood against the Cubs.
“I talk to this guy every day,” Collins said of Harvey. “I know exactly what he’s made of. I know exactly he’s about. He wants the baseball… that is not just a mask that he’s putting out. This kid likes to compete.”
The only mask that was appropriate in Game 1 of the NLCS was one befitting of the Dark Knight rising to the occasion, with Harvey’s return to dominance illuminating a cool October night over Gotham as clearly as a bat signal.