Matt Harvey tipped his cap to acknowledge a warm standing ovation by Mets fans on Wednesday afternoon. It was all downhill from there for Harvey in his return to Citi Field.
Emotional, overwhelmed, or a mix of both, Harvey stood composed on the mound, but he was not the Dark Knight who helped carry the Mets to the 2015 World Series. The Mets tagged him for seven earned runs on eight hits over 4.1 innings in their 7-1 win over the Orioles. When it was over, his season ERA jumped from 3.60 to 4.81.
“There was a lot of excitement, a lot of memories,” Harvey, thoughtful and sentimental, said following the game. “Obviously there’s been so many ups and downs here in this ballpark and in this organization. I didn’t really know what to expect and what they gave me, what the fans gave me, was pretty incredible.
“I was holding back tears. I’m not going to lie about that. It was pretty hard holding them back. It reminded me of, really, a lot of the good memories.”
Taijuan Walker, in a nod to the Mets’ current strong starting pitching staff, continued his terrific start to the season with one run allowed over seven innings. The Mets (18-13) extended their winning streak to seven games. It’s their longest winning streak since August 2019, when they won eight straight. The Mets swept the Diamondbacks and the Orioles to complete a 5-0 homestand.
“This is my second year coming off of Tommy John and I feel confident of myself,” said Walker, who has a 2.20 ERA through seven starts. “I don’t care if I’m proving people wrong or not. I know what I can do. The Mets believed in me, and they know what I can do too.”
Mets fans — though limited to 8,035 people at 20% Citi Field capacity — applauded Harvey multiple times in his return. Once, when he first took the hill in the bottom of the first inning. Harvey responded with a tip of his cap. Then again when he dug into the box for his first at-bat in the second inning. Catcher Tomas Nido allowed an extended ovation by holding off Walker’s pitch. The Mets played Harvey’s old walkup song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” when he stepped up to the plate.
There was no tip of the cap from Harvey — even though the crowd was once again on its feet for the former Mets ace — after he surrendered seven runs in his first- start at Citi Field since the Mets designated him for assignment and later in 2018 traded him to the Reds. He walked off the mound with his head down and settled into the opposing dugout with an even keeled, yet reflective, expression.
“Coming off the field with an ovation like that, it brought a lot back and it was very special to me,” Harvey said. “Something I’ll never forget.
“It was hard. This is a very special place to me. I’d like to say I gave everything I had here. Especially in that 2015 run, it was really something special. I left it all out there for everybody — for our fans, for the teammates. That was a big year for us as a team and for the city of New York. Those memories definitely came in when I got some cheers and got the standing ovation.”
Harvey has played for four other teams since his final start for the Mets on May 3, 2018, against the Braves. The right-hander was a shining star for the Mets — culminating in a 3.66 ERA over six seasons in Queens — that fizzled out in his final years in orange and blue.
But on Wednesday, Mets fans put the end of his Game 5 outing in the 2015 World Series behind them, for a moment forgetting their rage and sadness over Harvey’s successful argument with manager Terry Collins to stay in the game after eight shutout innings. Harvey coughed up the lead in the 9th, the Mets lost in extra innings as the Royals closed out the series.
In his first time at Citi Field as an opponent on Wednesday, his four-plus innings were a reminder of the roller coaster he once represented to the Mets franchise: elation, turmoil and immense respect.
“Obviously the last couple years [in New York] weren’t the way I wanted them to go,” Harvey said. “Between the injuries and I think, me getting in my own way and causing some of those problems, I feel for them. I feel for the fans. Maybe I let them down.
“The last couple years have been extremely humbling. I’ve learned from my mistakes and finally being healthy and kind of reinvent myself and get back out there hasn’t been easy but, besides today, I think things have been going in the right direction.”
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