Matt Harvey had to be haunted by the visuals all over his phone, computer, and TV. Jacob deGrom had become the story in baseball, the story across all of sports, with a mastery and grace from 60 feet, 6 inches away that made us all feel fortunate to be in his time.
More than anything, Jacob deGrom had become Matt Harvey … times five. The big city was supposed to belong to the Dark Knight for many years, as weathered baseball people rushed to declare the Yankees fan from Mystic, Conn., as something greater than the handsome face of the Mets franchise. He was supposed to be Tom Seaver, maybe better, until the arm that got him picked in the first round of the 2010 draft betrayed him, and swung open the door for a kid picked in the ninth round of the same draft.
A shortstop from Stetson, deGrom was not the better prospect. He was the better athlete and, it turns out, the better pitcher too — durable enough to carry an entire organization for who knows how long.
But with deGrom and the Mets mercifully off, Monday night in Baltimore suddenly became Harvey Day in New York. The 32-year-old starter took the mound against his childhood team as just another guy hanging by a big-league thread, hoping to extend the fantasy life of a pro athlete for as long as he can. Harvey was credited with winning a ballgame last week for the first time in 20 months, after a moderately effective performance against the Marlins. Who really expected him to shut down the very team that treats Camden Yards like its very own Kennedy Space Center, with one rocket launch after another?
Only a funny thing happened on the way to another Yankee beatdown of another Baltimore starter. Harvey looked like Harvey again. The Harvey before the Tommy John surgery, the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and the scapula surgery. The Harvey before the demotion to the bullpen, the designation for assignment, and the trade to the Reds.
The Harvey who made New York alive with possibilities every night he took the mound. The Harvey who made Citi Field feel no less electric than Seaver and Doc Gooden made Shea Stadium feel.
“It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a couple of years,” he would say.
Matched up against the Yankees’ top prospect, Deivi Garcia, Harvey opened the game by getting DJ LeMahieu looking. He allowed a bloop single to Gio Urshela in the second, and then a walk to Gleyber Torres, before retiring 11 Yankees in a row, striking out Gary Sanchez for the second time to end the fifth with a 2-0 lead. The sixth was more a study in survival, after Harvey surrendered back-to-back two-out doubles to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, cutting the Yankee deficit in half and leaving Baltimore’s starter with one last batter to retire to protect his lead.
Harvey reprimanded himself for hanging two breaking balls to the sluggers Yankees GM Brian Cashman loves to call “big, hairy monsters.” But he felt good about his arm, his mechanics, and his chances against Rougned Odor. Harvey beat him on his first pitch, a sinker, before using his changeup to compel him to hit a weak fly to left.
And that was that. Six innings, one run, three hits, five strikeouts, three walks — and one enduring memory about the way he used to throw the ball when the world was at his feet.
“I’ve been kicking myself with the short outings,” said Harvey, who hadn’t gone at least six innings since the summer of 2019. “In my mind I want to go six, seven innings all the time.” He deflected a question about finding a source of inspiration in the presence of a New York opponent. So be it.
Baltimore’s 4-2 victory was a stunning result, really, given the Yanks’ historic domination at Camden Yards, and given Harvey’s standing in the sport after he bounced from the Reds to the Angels to the A’s to the Royals to the Orioles in an attempt to wake up the echoes.
Monday night, it happened for him. Harvey was a high-maintenance act in New York who seemed more interested in being covered by the gossip columnists than the sports columnists. He would have been better off following the deGrom model, and making all of his noise on the field.
But that was then, and this was most definitely now. If nothing else, the Dark Knight reappeared for a couple of hours a little south of Gotham. And frankly, it was good to see him back.