A wooden cabinet breaks up a long row of lockers in the Mets’ clubhouse at Citi Field. Matt Harvey had a stall next to it, so the cabinet was his. He marked it with an orange sticker shaped like the Batman shield, with a black silhouette of Harvey in mid-delivery, a nod to his Dark Knight nickname.
Harvey kept the coveted space long after he stopped being the best pitcher in the room. The trappings of status remained, but the All-Star had vanished. Harvey left that guy behind when he trudged off the mound in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, a few harrowing minutes after he had charged there from the dugout, trying to complete a shutout.
Harvey had pitched 216 innings that season, dozens more than his agent, Scott Boras, said doctors had recommended for Harvey’s first full season after Tommy John surgery. An agent’s job is to protect his client’s best interests and offer wise counsel. Maybe Boras knew best.
The Mets said Friday that they would designate Harvey for assignment after he refused a request to go to the minors. With more than five years of major league service, Harvey had the right to decide for himself. He will be traded or released within a week, and General Manager Sandy Alderson called it “the end of an era.”
Alderson could not give such a succinct summary of just what happened to Harvey in the two and a half years since that World Series. One season was ruined by thoracic outlet syndrome, another by a shoulder injury. This season included four starts, four relief appearances and a 7.00 earned run average.
“I’m not a doctor,” Alderson said. “So did those innings contribute to thoracic outlet syndrome? Did they contribute to some other physical circumstance of his? I have no way of knowing. I don’t think anybody does.”
Boras has never definitively linked the injuries to Harvey’s workload in 2015, and did not do so on Friday. But Harvey was 27-18 with a 2.56 earned run average through the World Series, and 9-19 with a 5.93 E.R.A. thereafter. His strikeouts per nine innings plunged from 9.4 to 6.9.
The Mets had hoped Harvey’s stuff would improve in shorter bursts as a reliever. The old Harvey swagger might return if his pitches had more life.
“It just wasn’t playing like it probably should,” Manager Mickey Callaway said. “There’s ways to help guys in the bullpen from the way they attack, the mentality you need to have out of the bullpen. And I think it became obvious that maybe that wasn’t the case with Matt.”
That part of this saga is on Harvey. Maybe it was insecurity, or maybe misplaced victimhood. But Harvey never warmed to the assignment, never trusted that what worked for Carlos Carrasco in Cleveland, where Callaway previously coached, could also work for him.
Even when the Mets presented Harvey with more alluring comparisons, Harvey resisted. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were established major leaguers before tumbling to Class A for a thorough reset. Lee turned 29 the year he did it, in 2007, and won a Cy Young Award the next season. Harvey, who is 29 now, was not moved by the examples.
Boras, in a text message, said Harvey needs to be a starter so he can work on all four pitches, instead of two, as a reliever typically does. Boras said he was pleased Harvey was healthy and throwing hard enough to compete. Some team will surely give him a chance.
Alderson said the Mets saw a demotion as “our only real option to create a change of scenery,” having already tried with the bullpen role and with a new manager and pitching coach, Dave Eiland. But Callaway and Eiland had no investment in Harvey’s past, no reason to enable a would-be superhero who kept wishing for his old tool belt.
“We feel like we failed Matt Harvey,” Callaway said. “Our job is to help the player, and it’s not a good feeling when you can’t.”
Harvey gave the Mets everything he had when they needed him most. Saying it ruined him would be too simplistic. But the polish is gone from Harvey’s golden arm, and whatever else he has left, he will not be giving it to the Mets.