Matt Harvey rewards the game

Less than two months ago, New York Mets SP Matt Harvey put his team in its most challenging position of the 2015 season. Instead of playing his usual heroic role of Dark Knight and preparing to propel his team to a National League East crown, Harvey resembled The Joker, ready to flip his Gotham on its head and turn Citi Field against him. After General Manager Sandy Alderson, Manager Terry Collins and the entire Mets organization had worked tirelessly to ensure that Harvey would be available all season long after sitting out 2014 in its entirety following Tommy John surgery, Harvey and agent Scott Boras stunned everyone with a two-face act that nobody saw coming: A “medical recommendation” of 180 innings for the 26-year-old hurler.  

Fast forward to the present, with Boras having lost a battle he never should have started, Harvey’s contrition clearly evident and the Mets never wavering from the plan the organization had created, and Harvey is one day away from taking the mound and making the biggest start of his life in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Before this dream season, the Mets hadn’t been to the postseason since 2006. The last World Series appearance came in 2000, and the last championship parade in 1986—nearly 30 years ago. Imagine if Harvey, who fought so hard to return as the elite player we remembered him as, who doesn’t know if or when he’ll ever get this chance again, had to watch his teammates enjoy all of this celebration—this glory—from the sidelines.

17 OCT 2015: New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) walks off the mound during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs played at Citi Field in Flushing,NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Matt Harvey’s decision to pitch past his innings limit hasn’t gone unnoticed. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Considering the coverage and discussion, some would think Harvey’s inaugural season back on the mound has been met with mixed results. In reality, it’s been another excellent season for one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. During the 2013 campaign, when Harvey was billed as instant electricity, the 6’4” righty posted a 9-5 record (178.1 IP, 26 starts), 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and .209 BAA. In 2015, Harvey logged a 13-8 record (189.1 IP, 29 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and .222 BAA.

Baseball, still the only sport to operate without a game clock, has long been embraced by its fans for an ability to be majestic and transcend what follows a normal line of logic, has again managed to piece together a script that even the most talented writers couldn’t have envisioned. The Mets are in the World Series, Harvey will take the bump long after eclipsing the contrived 180 innings “limit” and both have a chance to make history together. Considering the Mets’ last championship crown came two and a half years before Harvey was born, there is no underselling the opportunity of the moment.

David Wright, captain of a franchise that had looked largely lost since his first trip to the playoffs as a bright-eyed 23-year-old budding star, is now 32 years old and battling spinal stenosis. Daniel Murphy, who has turned himself into a postseason legend with a superhuman performance leading into the World Series, had never experienced the playoffs at the major league level prior to this trip. Harvey, who at one point seemingly took this incredible set of circumstances for granted, now looks to understand its real magnitude.

A fan favorite from the moment he arrived in Queens, Harvey learned—the hard way—what it was like to lose the support of the Citi. With a desperate franchise in the midst of a run few expected to see and so many would have given anything or everything to be a part of, Harvey did not appear to want it badly enough in the eyes of those who did. While only the pitcher himself will truly know what his intentions were at every stage of the process, it was the first—and perhaps only—time in Harvey’s professional career that his desire to compete and will to win were both in question. How could he abandon his teammates at such a crucial juncture? How could he change the program on a show that had worked so hard to integrate him as its lead? There were only questions—no answers—as it appeared Harvey was prepared to rip off his superhero mask and expose himself as a villain.

Given how New York has embraced him as its own again since everything transpired, that’s probably not something Harvey wants to experience again.

A good Game 1 start would put Harvey in rarified Mets’ air—a dominant performance could align him with those legends that occupy New York’s Mount Rushmore of pitching.

The city that never sleeps has rallied emphatically behind the team, a once dormant fan base has awoken with the passion and energy of a previously slumbering giant and Harvey is at the epicenter of an experience that may never come again.

Harvey rewarded the game, and in return, the game is rewarding him with the chance to perform on the biggest stage imaginable, a chance to light up a city with the entire world watching and with an experience only a select group get to recall long after their playing days are complete.

Someone will likely ask Matt Harvey if trying to protect his uncertain future would have been worth missing out on a magical present, but he won’t have to provide anything in return. We’ll already know his answer.

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