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This is Not How the Matt Harvey Story Was Supposed to Go

The former New York Mets ace was destined for greatness since kindergarten, but the problem with building a narrative is that reality gets in the way.

by Rachael McDaniel
May 10 2018, 2:51pm

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2015, before Matt Harvey was traded from the Mets to the 10-27 Cincinnati Reds, the narrative of his greatness had already been laid out for him. Since the time he was in kindergarten, people said in breathless awe, he had always had the attitude of a star. He wasn’t interested in what other kids were interested in, the trivialities of childhood socialization. He stood in corners, mimicking pitching motions, because the World Series was his destiny; he stared at the baseball cards of all-stars and declared, dead serious, that he was going to be better than them. People who knew him growing up spoke glowingly of how his personality, inherited from his father, was “built” for the place his talent had taken him—that place being the mound at Kauffman Stadium, starting Game 1 of the World Series as his team's ace, one of baseball’s most exciting pitchers. Others spoke of their admiration of him off the field, the role model he was for their young kids in his behavior.

In those days, Harvey could do no wrong. He was something akin to a chosen one, his path always predetermined. The traits everyone saw in him when he was a kindergartener were the same traits people saw in him in high school, as a pitcher for a state-champion team: He was talented, intense, driven to the point of myopia. When a peer interviewer in his senior year of high school asked him what he would be doing in a decade, he answered with a level of disinterest that was almost mocking. He would have all the trappings of success. A nice house, a wife, kids. And, obviously, he would still be playing baseball.

A decade later, he was indeed still playing baseball with all the trappings of success, albeit different ones than those he apparently envisioned in high school. He was bigger than even those dreams. He had become an ace seemingly effortlessly. He had faced adversity in the form of Tommy John, and had returned just as much an ace as before. Pedro Martinez said that he saw Harvey having a better career than he did. Any tabloid controversy he stirred up—the partying, the supermodels, the missed practices—just contributed to the Dark Knight mythos. It was part of the story that had been cultivated from the time Harvey was a kid.

That’s the problem with this kind of narrative-building, the kind that decides five-year-olds are destined to start games in the World Series. You put the pieces together and try to make them mean something. When Harvey was an ace in 2015, the pieces seemed to add up to a great story about a guaranteed superstar, carrying a team with nowhere to go but up—a constructed certainty.

Reality brought injury, struggle, personal issues that always ended up in headlines. Reality has brought us here, with the Mets again backsliding, with Harvey cast off in large part due to his own bad-headedness. His anger at being moved to the bullpen and his refusal to go back to the minors show the same intensity of self-belief that, only three years ago, might have been considered the driving force behind his success. Now it’s just another quality of a pitcher whose future is uncertain.

The first time I ever watched any New York Mets baseball was in the 2015 World Series. I was, at the time, just beginning to watch and understand baseball as an adult. I didn’t know anything about the history of the franchise, distant or recent. Growing up in a Yankee-loving household, I was barely aware that another New York team even existed.

But I found myself bonded to the Mets during that World Series. My allegiance initially came not out of any particular affinity for the team, but out of pettiness—I resented the Royals for having knocked the Blue Jays out of contention and would have rooted for any other National League team that faced them in the Series. Even though my rooting interest was born out of a desire for revenge, I found myself strangely and counterintuitively devoted to the Mets after the first pitch they threw in the bottom of the first—the first pitch thrown by Matt Harvey.

All I knew about Harvey was what I saw in front of me on the screen, and what the broadcast told me. I knew that he was the Mets’ ace, big and angry-looking and bearded with the top buttons of his jersey undone, and that for his first pitch of his first World Series, he threw a 95 mph fastball at the heart of the zone to Alcides Escobar. I had watched Escobar terrorize the Jays on just such first-pitch fastballs over the plate for the entirety of the ALCS, and when I saw where Harvey’s pitch was headed, I hoped that what I knew was going to happen wouldn’t happen.

Of course, it did happen. Escobar roped the pitch into center field, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto misplayed the ball, and the rest is history. An inside-the-park home run for Escobar, a one-run lead for the Royals, a one-run victory in that game, a 4-1 series victory after a Game 5 in which Harvey dominated and then, at the worst possible time, crumbled. And it had started with that pitch, the first I’d ever seen from Harvey: a hard fastball that he threw almost casually, as though he had complete confidence that Escobar wasn’t going to hit it.

As Escobar sprinted out of the box, Harvey turned around slowly to watch his outfielders bungle the play, his glove hand on his hip, his elbow bent. He didn’t seem larger-than-life to me then, having no knowledge of the Matt Harvey Story.™ He looked like a pitcher who had made a mistake. His start ended in a no-decision.