Sports

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and falls: The inevitable tragedy of Matt Harvey and the New York Mets

The expression “what might have been” in sports terminology has become something of a cliché. However, the assessment of hypothetical possibilities of a certain player’s career or a game’s outcome is natural in sports analysis. In fact, it is one of the reasons why sports captivate the minds of millions of people.

Analyzing how great a player could have been should certain events have unfolded differently is one of the most tragic outcomes of sports fandom, as the gravity of the situations that did occur in reality greatly outweigh the hypothetical situations.

Comparable to classic Greek tragedy, sports analysis often involves an idolized being with some incredible traits or skills rising to the top, only to lose it all.

The story of Matt Harvey and the New York Mets is one such tragedy.

If the story of Harvey and the Mets were a Greek tragedy, it would be the story of Icarus and Daedalus. Like Daedalus, Harvey crafted the wings that allowed the Mets to fly to new heights, paving the way for a new, albeit short, era of success. He made it fun to be a Mets fan again. However, the wings melted and Harvey and the Mets fell back to reality after coming too close to the sun.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

Inevitably, just like Icarus, Harvey came crashing down on May 4, when he was designated for assignment by the Mets after refusing a minor league option, effectively ending his roller coaster, a six-year stint with the club.

Harvey’s rise to superstardom and abrupt fall will be a topic discussed by fans and pundits for years to come.

It will not be the “what could have been” story that Mets fans have grown accustomed to, but rather a “what should have
been” story.

The most captivating, yet controversial pitcher to pitch in the Mets starting rotation since Dwight “Doc” Gooden will forever have an asterisk attached to his name.

Just like Gooden, Harvey was an enigma during his time in the Big Apple. The confidence that defined him on the mound became arrogance that led to his eventual downfall in the twilight of
his tenure.

His personality outgrew his performance, his celebrity outgrew his abilities, and injuries severely hindered him from pitching at a high level, following his incredible
2015 season.

Harvey became more like Bruce Wayne than the Dark Knight. It was an endearing title he earned after gracing the cover of the May 20, 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated. When Harvey was at his peak, fans donned in Batman masks would flock to Citi Field in droves to witness the greatness of their ace.

However, just three seasons later, those very fans were the ones who would boo him off the
mound after shockingly disappointing outings.

Had injuries not taken a toll on his body, Harvey might still
be considered the ace in the Mets’ rotation.

Instead, he was relegated to the bullpen, and eventually, designated for assignment by the team, leading the Mets to, once again, fall victim to another sports tragedy.

The ups and downs of Harvey’s time in Flushing will be discussed for years, and fans will always be left with many memories of his time with the team.

Harvey’s career with the Mets started in the heat of the Arizona desert on July 26, 2012. The Arizona sun was hot. But Harvey’s arm was hotter. In his debut, Harvey struck out 11 batters in 5.1 innings of play. He would finish the 2012 season with a 3-5 record and a 2.73 earned run average, leaving Mets fans optimistic about the future. Harvey’s 2013 season cemented him as a star, while placing the Mets back on the map, as he finished with a 9-5 record, a 2.27 ERA and a start in the 2013 All-Star Game. After undergoing Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the 2014 season, Harvey would return with a vengeance for the 2015 season. He was named 2015 National League comeback player of the year after posting a 13-8 record and a 2.71 ERA. Despite warnings from doctors that surpassing the innings limit imposed on him following his elbow surgery could hinder his play and aggravate his existing injury, Harvey pitched in the playoffs, helping the Mets reach the World Series for the first time in 15 seasons.

His performance in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series will be remembered as the moment his career path changed forever. Harvey pitched a masterful eight scoreless innings, striking out nine batters in the process. However, the moment the legend of Harvey should’ve been cemented, his unraveling began. Manager Terry Collins wanted to pull Harvey out of the game but Harvey talked his way back in, and Collins gave into his request to finish the game he had been utterly dominating.

Harvey sprinted to the mound in the ninth inning to a standing ovation. The atmosphere at Citi Field in that moment has been described by Mets fans as louder than Shea Stadium’s when the Mets won Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. It was an incredibly powerful moment that, should the Mets have won the game, would’ve gone down in history as an all-time great sports moment.

Instead it serves as a reminder of what it means to be a Mets fan.

Harvey gave up a leadoff walk and then an RBI double that made the score 2-1, silencing the Mets faithful at Citi Field. Harvey was pulled from the game, and the Mets would go on to lose the game in extra innings, and eventually the World Series. Experts criticized the decision to send Harvey out for the ninth inning, but fans and players defended it. But one thing was undebatable about the game: Harvey was never the same after it.

Harvey posted a 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA in the 2016 season as injuries began to limit his effectiveness. He ended his season with surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and lost his position as the ace of the rotation following the emergence of star pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz.

The 2017 season was even worse for Harvey as he posted a 5-7 record and abysmal 6.70 ERA. He was suspended for three games for violating team rules after he did not appear at Citi Field on May 6, leading many to believe that he was out partying the night before. Harvey underwent yet another surgery during the 2017 season and would return just to be obliterated in two innings by the eventual World Series Champions Houston Astros.

After a strong spring training, Mets fans were sure that the 2018 season would be Harvey’s renaissance. Instead, it was officially the tipping point in Harvey’s Mets career. He posted an 0-2 record and 7.00 ERA after four starts. He also continued a streak of 11 straight starts of pitching five innings or less, draining the bullpen in almost every start during his slump. After he was relegated to the bullpen, Harvey cursed at reporters and refused to answer any questions about the decision. He struggled in four appearances out of the pen, and, after he was found to be partying the night before a rough outing, general manager Sandy Alderson and the team made the decision to either option Harvey to the minor leagues or designate him for assignment. Harvey declined the option, and his time with the Mets came to a screeching halt.

Harvey’s career with the Mets is almost that of two different players. In the 2012, 2013 and 2015 seasons, Harvey played in 65 games, posting a 25-18 record, a 2.57 ERA and struck out 449 batters. From 2016-2018, Harvey played in just 44 games, posting a 9-19 record, a 5.94 ERA and striking out 163 batters.

2018 is Harvey’s contract year. In 2015, many believed his prospective contract would be too much for the Mets, as he would demand an incredible contract due to his abilities. Instead, he was ousted by the organization after eight rough appearances, proving that the contract would not be unaffordable; it would just be unwarranted.

Harvey will certainly sign with another team during the 2018 season. In fact, it could be argued that he will thrive in any market other than New York, which is by far the biggest market in sports.

While fans will always have their opinions about Harvey the person, they will also be left with a great deal to be thankful for. Harvey briefly shifted the New York baseball spotlight from the Bronx to Queens, and captured the attention of sports media, not just in New York but nationwide. His debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks, his “bloody nose game” against the Chicago White Sox, his 2013 dominance against the New York Yankees and eight innings of Game 5 of the World Series will go down as all-time great Mets pitching moments. Harvey brought life back to Citi Field.

Perhaps it’s poetic that the events of Harvey’s career with the Mets unfolded much like his namesake did in the 2008 film The Dark Knight. In the film, whenever the Bat-Signal would shine over Gotham, Batman would save the day. The lights at Citi Field were Harvey’s Bat-Signal, and every time they would shine, he would play the hero. However, at the end of the film, the Bat-Signal is destroyed, and Batman vanishes, only to rise again in the future.

The Citi Field lights have officially gone out on Harvey. The hero is gone, and fans can only hope he rises to greatness once again.

Editor’s Note: Harvey was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on May 8.

May 15, 2018

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Andrew Marzullo


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