Will the Mets' "Dark Knight" Rise Again?

“Why do we fall?  So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” – Thomas Wayne in “Batman Begins”

The Sports Feen’s Dose – Will the Mets’ Dark Knight rise?

This past Thursday, I remember being so anxious as I headed to Citi Field for the rubber match between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals.  Even though it’s May, it felt like a game we needed to win, not only to win the three game series but also to set to the tone for the rest of the season.  As optimistic as I am about the Mets this season, I know we won’t be able to run away with the division like we did last year because the teams in our division are much improved.  Originally, I didn’t have tickets to Thursday’s game but a good friend of mine couldn’t go and offered his pair to me Wednesday afternoon (thanks Matt!) which I gladly accepted.  I got on my phone to check the following night’s probable starters and was ecstatic to find out that it would be Stephen Strasburg versus one of the Mets aces, Matt Harvey.

While Harvey had yet to pitch the way we know he’s capable of, I felt confident that sooner rather than later he’ll bounce back and start being the ace that he is.  Thursday night wasn’t that night.  I had barely sat on my seat in Section 305 (Coca Cola Porch) and within a matter of moments the Mets were down 2-0 thanks to a two-run home-run blast from Daniel Murphy who smacked a curve ball that didn’t bite over the center field wall.  From there it only got worse.   Asbrubal Cabrera misplayed a ground ball that should’ve been a tailored made double play to end the inning but instead the inning continued and the hits kept coming.  In total, the Nationals scored seven times in the 3rd inning and Harvey just couldn’t stop the bleeding.  As Terry Collins came out to end the misery for Harvey, the fans started booing their hero, and as Harvey walked out of the field all I can think of was; “Will the Dark Knight rise again?”

Many people scoff at the nickname of “The Dark Knight” given to Harvey but those same people loved it just a few years ago when Harvey was dominating the National League.  I, for one, love it because all the members of the Mets starting rotation have their own colorful personality and character to them; Noah Syndeergaard is “Thor,” Bartolo Colon is “Big Sexy,” Jacob deGrom is “The deGrominator (with awesome hair),” and Steven Matz is…well, what is Matz’ nickname?  I guess we need to figure that one out but you get the point.  The fans didn’t give Harvey his nickname, Sports Illustrated did.   They tabbed him the “The Dark Knight of Gotham” in their cover early in the 2013 season and for good reason because Harvey truly looked like the Mets’ savior at the time.

When Harvey made his major league debut on July 26, 2012, the Mets were well on their way of missing the playoffs for the 6th straight season.  There weren’t many bright spots until Harvey arrived and in his major league debut, he didn’t disappoint.  He struck 11 batters out in 5 1/3 scoreless innings pitched.  There was something about Harvey that stood out besides his electric fastball, it was his demeanor on the mound; that bravado as Keith Hernandez would say.  Harvey had that.  The following season, Harvey’s encore performance was even more spectacular.  I remember one start in particular when Harvey was opposed by the very same Strasburg and dominated the Nationals which prompted the fans to chant “Harver’s better!” in reference to the fact that many had anointed Strasburg as the next great pitching phenom in baseball.  But at the time it looked like one of our own was going to take ownership of that title instead.  In 2013, all of Harvey’s starts were must see, must attend including the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field in front the home crowd which Harvey started.   Just three years later, those same fans didn’t want anything to do with Harvey.  They must have forgotten the journey that Harvey has been on since that All-Star game.

Soon after Harvey took the city by storm, Harvey’s rise to stardom came to a scratching halt.  Harvey received the worst news possible for any pitcher; he needed to get Tommy John surgery which meant he would have to miss the entire 2014 season.  Harvey worked his butt off and was prepared to make his return late in 2014 but the Mets played it safe and had him wait to make his return until the 2015 season, which ended up being an amazing year for the team and great one for Harvey personally all things considered but not one without controversy.  In September, word came out that Harvey was going to be shut down due to reaching an innings pitched limit recommended by his agent and by doctors.  However, after much drama, Harvey decided to go against doctors’ orders and his agent’s advice, and fittingly was the starting pitcher when the Mets clinched their first NL East title since 2006.  It didn’t stop there. Harvey also helped the Mets reach the World Series for the first time since 2000 and in the Game 5, with the Mets on the brink of being sent home, Harvey pitched the game of his life.  We all know how it ended but being there that night in a sold-out Citi Field crowd, chanting his name, we all wanted him to come back out for the 9th inning to finish the job that he started.  It didn’t turn out the way we all would’ve liked but Harvey stepped up big time but it wasn’t enough.

Coming into the 2016 season, Mets had every reason to be excited and still do quite frankly and mainly because the Mets one through five starters make up one of the best rotations in all of baseball.  However, now there is now cause for concern.  The Mets offense has been inconsistent and while Syndergaard and Matz have been great on the mound, there have been recent news that the Mets have looked into their elbows which is always frightening.  deGrom started the season with his velocity and while some of it has come back, his control hasn't been great but at least he's been battling through it to give us some productive outings.  But the biggest worry is Harvey.  Harvey has seen his velocity drop significantly, his confidence shattered, and the fans turn on him.  But I am not one of them.  While many will question what Harvey does off the field or his work ethic, I am more understanding because I know that Harvey pitched more innings last year than was expected from him returning from Tommy John surgery.  What we're seeing now is uncharted territory.  

Back in September of 2012, the Nationals shut down Strasburg which proved costly for the team's fortune that season but wasn't costly for Strasburg's pockets as he recently became the highest paid contract given to a post-Tommy John pitcher in history (banking $175 million over 7 years).  Harvey risked his future last year in hopes of bringing a championship to Queens and maybe pushing through last year could end up being the reason he will never be the 2013 Harvey again.  A friend of mine who's a Yankee fan (will remain nameless) mentioned that Harvey will end up being like Joba Chamberlain.  Totally different circumstances but I understood what he meant.  After the Yankees kept messing around with Joba, he was never the same.  Right now, Harvey doesn't look the same.  Something is off.  Not sure if it's the after affect of pitching so much last year post-TJ surgery, if it's his mechanics, or just plain and simple after a few rough starts, he's just completely lost his confidence.  And as much confidence as Harvey had shown in the past (some may have called it cockiness), he's still human and he's still a baseball player.  Of all the sports in the world, baseball has the most ups and downs of any during the course of a 162-game regular season.  Maybe it's just a bump on the road.  Or maybe this is who Harvey has become now.  But maybe there is a comeback story ready to unfold.  I know this much, I'll be rooting for the comeback and will be cheering on Harvey to overcome his current slump.  As much as I love Thor, deGrom, and Matz, I'll always remember Harvey as the first Mets pitcher to give me hope for a brighter Mets future.  And I'll especially remember my first World Series game in person and his heroic performance in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.

It's funny that "The Dark Knight" moniker was given to Harvey because now their stories have plenty of similarities.  But there's a quote from "The Dark Knight Rises" that relates in regards to Matt Harvey and that is:  

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” - Harvey Dent.  

In Matt's case, he's been in majors long enough now that he's prone to get booed from the fans, his hometown fans, scrutinized for the things he does off the field, and have his work ethic questioned when he doesn't perform at a high level.  At times, Matt has brought this upon himself but right now, I don't doubt that he's not trying his hardest and wants to be the best not just for himself but for the fans of the New York Mets.  The goal this year for the Mets to win the World Series but if the Harvey of old doesn't return then the chances of that happening become slimmer.  So as Mets fans we can only hope that Matt Harvey's story ends the same Bruce Wayne's did...with the Dark Knight rising.

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