Throughout sports, there are always pairs of opponents that will forever be linked.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in basketball, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in golf, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in football.
Matt Harvey of the Mets and Steven Strasburg of the Nationals will be linked for many reasons.
Both pitchers were drafted around the same time to franchises in need of an ace and a leader. Washington chose Strasburg with the first choice in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft out of San Diego State, and Harvey was drafted by the Mets the following year out of North Carolina.
They both dealt with sky-high expectations, as they had exceptional talent. In a sign of modern baseball and how common it has become, both had Tommy John surgery and have had to overcome it.
That surgery were defining points in their careers, mainly for how their teams reacted to them.
Strasburg, who debuted in 2010, had his Tommy John surgery in 2011. He returned in 2012, and put together a phenomenal year, as he went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA. The Nationals were 98-64 and cruising to the postseason when they shut Strasburg down in September when he hit his innings limit. They lost in the first round to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mets had the exact same dilemma last September, as Harvey neared his innings limit. Harvey, on the advice of his agent Scott Boras, was threatening to sit out the playoffs. After a tremendous public outcry from Mets fan livid at the thought of entering the playoffs without their ace, Harvey was limited the final few weeks of the regular season and was spectacular throughout the playoffs, incuding Game 1 against the Cubs in the National League Championship Series and the final game of the World Series. The Mets knew you can’t pass up a chance to go for a World Championship.
Mets Manager Terry Collins said of Harvey and Strasburg being linked by Tommy John surgery and if the Mets were influenced at all by what Washington did in 2012, “I can’t answer that because (Mets General Manager) Sandy (Alderson) was heavily involved, so where he got some of the things we did with Matt, it came from him, so did he look at the Nationals? I can’t tell you. We looked at a lot of guys coming off Tommy John and the workloads and the other things involved, so I don’t know if we used Strasburg’s stuff as we tried to use as much information as we could get from other guys.”
The Mets are going through with Harvey now what Washington went through in 2013, and that is the second year back from Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg went 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA in 2013, 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA, while throwing 215 innings, in 2014; and 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA last season.
This season, Strasburg is back to his old self, as he is off to a 6-0 start with a 2.95 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 innings. Last week, he signed a seven-year, $175 million contract.
After throwing 189.1 innings in the regular season, plus what he threw in the playoffs last year, Harvey has been ordinary this season.
Harvey entered Thursday night’s start against Strasburg and the Nationals with a 3-5 record and a 4.93 ERA, and had failed to get out of the sixth inning in any of his eight starts.
Collins said of how similar their recoveries to the surgery have been, “The similarities are that they both have been healthy, they haven’t been shelved again because of discomfort in their elbows. And I know that they certainly, I think Stephen went a year when he was okay, his ceiling is so high, has such great stuff. Maybe his confidence is soaring that he will stay healthy, and you’re seeing what all the patience has shown.
“We tried to do that same thing last year by attempting different things to get Matt through the summer. Just talked to John Smoltz about it again, same thing, that’s why I keep saying, it’s going to come, just may take a little longer than we want or that he wants. i still think that we’re going to see the Matt Harvey we know is in there, and hopefully it shows up tonight. I think this motivation tonight, this energy, this adrenaline flow tonight, this might be the thing that flips the switch moving forward.”
It didn’t turn out as Collins hoped. The first inning showed the contrast in the two pitchers, as Harvey gave up a two-run homer to Daniel Murphy and Strasburg struck out the side with ease.
The Mets got a run back in the bottom of the second, as Yoenis Cespedes singled and scored on a single by Adrubal Cabrera.
The third inning might have been the worst inning of Matt Harvey’s career. The inning started with a single by Ben Revere, and then Jayson Werth hit a fly ball to the warning track in center field. Bryce Harper singled, and then Murphy walked to load the bases.
Ryan Zimmerman then hit a one to shortstop, and Cabrera bobbled it, allowing Revere to score and make it 1-0 Nationals. Anthony Rendon then doubled in two runs, and Wilson Ramos singled in two more to make it 7-1 Washington. Danny Espinsosa singled, and Strasburg got a groundout to move the runners over to second and third. Revere came up again, and laced a triple up the left-center field gap to make it 9-1 Washington and chase Harvey from the game.
This was by far Harvey’s worst outing of the season, possibly career, as he allowed nine runs, six earned, on eight hits, two walks, and two strikeouts in just 2 2/3 innings.
Srtrasburg was incredible, as he went sic innings, allowed the one run on six hits, a walk, and struck out 10.