With his clean mechanics, brutish fastball and ability to stretch the strike zone vertically more than horizontally, Harvey is the closest facsimile to Roger Clemens since the Rocket fired his last pitch, in 2007. Indeed, the purity of Harvey's arm swing is eerily similar to that of Clemens's, especially in the moment when he reaches back for power: His arm goes stock straight behind him as he shows the ball to second base while sitting on a bent back leg—just as the Rocket did.
The similarity doesn't end there. Like Clemens, Harvey wants to own the game, not just rent a slice of it. Two springs ago, when Mets manager Terry Collins wanted to ease the pressure on the kid in camp by telling him he was ticketed for the minors, Harvey snapped back, "I'm here to make the team." (He didn't.) This spring, as Harvey prepared for his first full big league season, pitching coach Dan Warthen told him if he threw 210 innings, he could win 17 games. "If I throw 210 innings," Harvey said, "I'm winning 20."
As a teenager, Harvey, a Yankees fan growing up, and Ed often rode to the old Yankee Stadium. Matt loved Paul O'Neill, especially how the simple act of making an out might send O'Neill into a helmet-throwing, watercooler-kicking fit, and the way Clemens would use his fastball to bully hitters. These were his kind of players: They conceded nothing and despised even the smallest failures. After the game Matt would watch the Yankees' stars drive out of the players' parking lot in their sports cars and tricked-out SUVs, snaking through throngs of excited people who screamed their names. The kid would just watch and smile. He took away something better than an autograph: the dream that someday he would be the one driving through that adoring gantlet.
The dream is real now. Harvey was the National League pitcher of the month for April, just his third full month in the big leagues. His May, so far, has been even better: On May 7 he flirted with a perfect game against the White Sox, allowing just an infield hit and striking out 12 while walking none in nine overpowering innings. Through eight starts he was 4--0 this season with a 1.44 ERA while allowing the fewest hits per nine innings of any pitcher in baseball (4.3). The Mets were 6--2 when he started, 8--18 otherwise.
After 18 career starts, Harvey had a 2.10 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 1152/3 innings. He had struck out seven or more batters 12 times; in baseball history only Kerry Wood (15) and Hideo Nomo (14) had more. TV ratings for the otherwise moribund Mets shoot up when it's Harvey's day to pitch. Already this year he has matched up against two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay and Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and thoroughly outpitched both.
This kind of domination is what Harvey expects. He is one bad dude armed with the rare fastball to push people around, and he knows it. He hangs with Rangers goalie and New York bon vivant Henrik Lundqvist, lives in Manhattan and drives a black Escalade, the jock chariot of his dreams. "People get out of the way," he explains of his city ride. "It's better than a small car."
Harvey doesn't want to be just another great pitcher. He wants to be measured against established, dominant stars such as Justin Verlander. "I want to be that guy," he says, "when they know you're starting against them, they go, 'Oh, crap.'
"The things Verlander has done, the games he's won, the guys he's struck out, and obviously the big contract he signed, you want to measure yourself against that and shoot for it.... I always wanted to be the tough, win-all guy. Any other way is not going to happen."
Harvey is 6'4" and 230 pounds, a near exact duplication of Clemens in his prime, with the same thick legs and large hands—the winning genetic lottery ticket of the classic power pitcher. His dark, serious eyes are set off by thick, dark eyebrows, dark tousled hair and dark facial stubble. In appearance and task, Harvey is the Dark Knight of Gotham. He is here because he believes he was born for it. He is here, too, because Harvey is a coach's son.
SCOUTS LIKE coaches' sons because they generally have been exposed early and often to proper instruction and the nuances of the game. Zack Cozart of the Reds, Sean Rodriguez of the Rays, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Brett Anderson of the Athletics are just a few of the many coaches' sons in the game today. Cal Ripken and Chipper Jones may be the most prominent examples of coaches' sons who, in addition to their natural gifts, were held up as paragons for their deep understanding of the game. But the advantage becomes a detriment when the coach is overbearing. Eddie Bane, special assistant for player personnel with the Red Sox, recalls a pitcher, a former first-round pick, whose father would yell instructions and criticism at his son while he was on the mound. "[A coach] who is just living through his kid, that's a negative," Bane says. "Most of them aren't that way. Harvey's dad did a great job raising him. This kid's arm is really fresh. He's got a lot of bullets left. His dad was smart enough to realize at 10 years old he didn't have [just] a Little League all-star, he may have something special."