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THIS MARCH the Mets were preparing to board a bus for their final spring training game when J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to New York general manager Sandy Alderson, called over Harvey. "I've been watching you all spring," said Ricciardi, the former G.M. of the Blue Jays. "I'm going to give you the ultimate compliment. You remind me of Roy Halladay. You have great work habits, you take your between-start bullpens seriously, you throw every pitch with a purpose, and you want to be great. That's what I saw in Doc."
"Thank you," Harvey said. "That's the kind of pitcher I want to be."
Says Ricciardi now, "He wants to be on the big stage. He has the full package to be the complete pitcher. Everyone tries to find a true Number 1, but they are few and far between."
Gotham needs the Dark Knight. The Mets appear headed for a fifth straight losing season, have seen attendance drop four straight years while losing 1.8 million paying customers, and have missed the postseason in 21 of the past 24 seasons. Harvey stirs memories of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, homegrown power pitchers who helped the Mets to their only world championships, in 1969 and 1986, respectively. In 52 seasons of Mets baseball, only four pitchers originally signed by the franchise have won more than 15 games in a season for them: Jerry Koosman, Seaver and Jon Matlack (all signed between 1964 and '67) and Gooden ('82).
It took only one start for Harvey to breathe life into the franchise. Last July 26 he set a club record with 11 strikeouts in his debut while also becoming the first pitcher in modern history to have double-digit strikeouts and two hits at the plate in his first game. He is the rare pitcher who has dominated the major leagues immediately without doing so in college or the minor leagues, where he had an unremarkable 3.48 ERA in 46 starts. "Man," Fox told him after his debut, "you didn't do that very much in college, and you didn't do it in the minor leagues at all. Your mind was always on the big leagues. And once you got there, it's like unleashing a caged animal."
Citi Field crackled with a rare buzz on April 19 when Harvey started against Strasburg, the celebrated No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft whose career has been muffled by Tommy John surgery and conservative pitch counts. Though Strasburg was making his 49th career start and Harvey his 14th, Harvey already had pitched into the eighth inning more times (twice) than Strasburg (none). Since the day Harvey arrived in the big leagues, he has outpitched Strasburg (5--7, with a 3.65 ERA and 97 strikeouts in that span). Their head-to-head meeting was no different.
Strasburg took the mound with his inverted W delivery, the one Ed had rejected for his first-born son. Strasburg labored through six innings, needing 111 pitches. Harvey threw 105 and pitched seven innings in a 7--1 Mets win.
Matt had rented a luxury suite behind home plate that night for his family. Ed was mesmerized. In high school he watched Matt from the dugout. In college he would watch from the stands behind the dugout. Sitting behind the plate at Citi Field, Ed was struck by how much force Matt generated on the mound. It was like viewing an oncoming locomotive from the tracks rather than from the side. Of course, Ed had seen and caught Matt head-on many times when seated on a ball bucket, but those were practice sessions, and they had ended abruptly when Matt was a sophomore at North Carolina. One day they were throwing in the gym at Avery Point. Harvey's curveball was snapping past Ed. His fastball was becoming a danger. "That's it," Ed announced. "We can't do that anymore."
This was different. This was the major leagues, a duel against Strasburg, and a franchise wishing on a young arm the way a child does a star. "When he pitched for me, I was totally relaxed," Ed says. "I could talk to him between innings or tinker with his mechanics.... I felt I had some control. Watching on the other side of the fence, it's a helpless feeling."
Ed's work was done. Matt stood there on the mound, the Dark Knight, imbued with the inner strength that few pitchers ever know, the strength that comes from being able to throw four different pitches past a hitter, sometimes at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour. "Power," is how Harvey answers when asked to explain such a feeling. "It's pretty exciting, knowing I can reach back and run it up there at 98 and 99 when I want and drop a slider in there and throw a curveball for a strike and fade a changeup away to a lefty."