What is it about young pitchers? Baseball fans enjoy watching stars of all kinds, of course, but most of all, and more and more, we enjoy watching young, homegrown stars, and young, homegrown star pitchers in particular. Maybe it’s because they’re so rare, the very few that reach their full potential, and grow into all the hopes we’ve placed on them. “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect,” goes the old baseball saying. Except that every once in a while, there is. And when that happens, or even just when you think it might be happening, you want to be there.
Several times now I’ve gone to a game just because Stephen Strasburg was pitching. This time I went because Matt Harvey was pitching as well. A fair number of Mets fans (at least by current Mets standards) did the same Friday night, including Doc Gooden, who has probably given some thought to excitement over young pitchers himself.
It took a little while to make out what the crowd at Citi Field was chanting in the 6th inning, with Strasburg on the mound. Were they in some way celebrating the news out of Boston? No, that would not be announced on the scoreboard for another inning. This was something else.
“HAR-VEY’S BET-TER!… HAR-VEY’S BET-TER!”
Whether or not this is true in general remains to be seen, but it was true on Friday, when Harvey and the Mets won 7-1 against one of the better teams and aces in the league. Strasburg did not pitch as badly as the final score suggests, though he threw too many pitches (of which not enough were strikes), and ran of gas in the sixth inning; he allowed four runs, two earned, and struck out six.
Harvey, meanwhile, had another excellent start, and his excellent starts are adding up. He has what’s often called an explosive fastball, one that repeatedly touched 99 mph Friday night while moving enough to provoke a menagerie of flailing swings from the Nationals. Most impressive of all was his seventh inning, when he seemed to be headed for trouble, if not disaster. What should have been a double play became an E-4 and a fielder’s choice, leaving the bases loaded, nobody out and a run already in. Terry Collins left his new ace in there — and Collins used that word after the game, “ace,” with what appeared to be only a fleeting moment of hesitation — and Harvey rewarded him by striking out Kurt Suzuki, popping up Roger Bernardina and inducing Denard Span to ground out.
“There’s gonna be a lot of years you’re gonna be talking about this guy,” said Collins afterwards, articulating the hope and expectation that, to fans, still feels almost too much like a jinx to say out loud. It’s hard even to type without caveats. If he… always assuming that… as long as…
Matt Harvey’s career is still very young. And so, yes, it is still a bit early to anoint him as the Mets’ savior, or as the next great ace. But, when you watch him pitch, there is no reason to think it won’t continue –– no red flags, no puzzling anomalies. He throws in the upper-90s, with movement, for strikes; he has a spectacular slider and an effective curve. He seems able to keep his focus and persevere through tense moments. As far as anyone can tell, it’s all there, all the ingredients for that rarest of baseball phenomenons, the young homegrown star pitcher.
Matt Harvey has a lot to live up to, and anything could happen – but, right now, he gives every indication of living up to all of it. He doesn’t actually need to be better than Strasburg for that to happen, but the fact that better than Strasburg is even on the table is a testament to how impressive he already is.