Throughout Wednesday night’s Mets-Rockies game a skinny, heavily tattooed Latino man with a jet black ponytail two rows behind me hollered Spanish phrases punctuated with “Harv-eeeeeee”. His futbol announcer’s exuberance provided, for me at least, an unintelligible, but welcome soundtrack as Mets ace Matt Harvey motored toward his first MLB shutout. At one point while filled with ecstasy our “announcer” friend declared Harvey a cowboy who gets all the ladies, according to my girlfriend Kerry who is hip on Spanish slang.
Harvey has provided Mets fans reason for excitement every fifth day during a season destined for Nowheresville since April. On this particular night with victory all but assured entering the ninth inning, the faithful saluted the 24-year-old righthander’s efforts, rising from their seats and chanting his name like a thunderous choir. After Harvey recorded two quick outs, a line drive off his right knee for a base hit momentarily hushed the crowd. Harvey waved off the training staff and induced a pop out from Troy Tulowitzki to finish his masterpiece.
In Harv-eeeeeeeeee’s honor here are my favorite Mets moments of 2013 (so far):
5. DWIGHT GOODEN BOBBLEHEAD DAY, July 21
As I boarded the 7 train back to Manhattan on July 21 a man dressed in Mets gear bemoaned the fact he did not receive a Dwight Gooden bobblehead despite attending the day’s game against the Phillies. Ten feet away from him an older, big-bellied man clutched four Gooden dolls, presumably those belonging to his wife and two kids standing nearby.
The first 25,000 fans who entered received free dolls of Gooden’s pitching likeness. I missed the game due to work but hustled to Citi Field determined to buy one post-game. As a baseball fan I revere Gooden’s electric and precocious talent (check out his 1985 Cy Young season stats at age 20). Plus, I’ve always wanted to own a bobble head doll.
I arrived after the game’s final pitch to find droves of people with Gooden dolls heading to the subway, and no signs of any sellers. I had almost abandoned hope when I found an unauthorized vendor selling $5 Mets hats. At his feet sat an unopened bobble head box. I asked him how much. He answered $15.
4. HARVEY’S 1st SHUTOUT, August 7
I’ve seen Harvey pitch three times this season – April 3 against the Padres, April 19 against the Nationals, and August 7 against the Rockies. He won all three times, pitching a total of 23 innings, allowing one run, nine hits, and striking out 23. His high 90s fastball up and away is borderline unfair. So is his 90-mph slider.
Against the Rockies Wednesday night Harvey impressed me with his efficiency more than his power. He entered the ninth with just 90 pitches thrown. He finished with a near 74-percent strike rate and induced 13 ground outs. Even without injured left fielder Carlos Gonzalez the Rockies have formidable bats in their lineup like Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer and Harvey tamed them all.
I sat in the 300 level along the first base line almost parallel to the pitcher’s mound. From my vantage I marveled at the ease in which Harvey fires the ball to the plate. There’s no great effort visibly expended, and once his left foot plants the ball arrives to the plate in a blur. It’s easy to envision Harvey, with his youthful age, compact frame, and calm delivery, winning a Cy Young or two.
3. HRs TIE IT IN EXTRAS, July 4
I assumed with two outs in the bottom of the 13th and Anthony Recker at the plate that the Mets were headed for defeat against the D’backs on July 4th. Recker, a backup catcher, had gone 0-for-the-afternoon and was hitting under .200 for the season.
When Recker made contact with a 2-1 fastball from D’backs closer Heath Bell I jumped from my seat, such was the violent “thwack!” of ball meeting bat. The ball cleared the left field wall, causing the smattering of Mets fans left in the stands to burst into joyous fits.
The scenario replayed the following inning as Kurt Neuwenheis launched a solo homer to tie the game at 4-apiece. Eventually the Mets lost 5-4 in 15 innings but the drama the contest provided greatly outweighed the disappointment the result produced.
2. “USA! USA! USA!”, April 19
The meatheads one row to my right in the left-center bleachers at the Mets-Nationals game distracted and irritated me as they competed with one another for dumbest comment of the night directed at Nationals center fielder Denard Span. In their minds they had attended a fraternity party where loud, boorish behavior was celebrated, and a baseball game had broken out, it seemed.
This same group of six or eight guys also inexplicably produced the most indelible moment I’ve witnessed at Citi Field this season. In the sixth inning one of them announced loud enough for me to hear that the Boston bomber suspect had been arrested. From their section chants of “USA! USA!” started in earnest. Minutes later the stadium’s video boards announced the news to great applause.
Chants of “USA! USA!” filled the stadium and goosebumps engulfed me.
1. A SURPRISE PHONE CALL
The Mets sealed my fandom with a surprise phone call from one of their employees prior to the July 4 game. A man identifying himself as a Mets employee called inquiring about my experiences at previous Mets games this season. At the phone call’s end he asked about my July 4 plans and whether I would be interested in attending the Mets game that afternoon. I answered in the affirmative and he told me the team would provide me free tickets.
This all sounded too good to be true, and I admit I doubted it was true until I stepped to the will call window and two tickets were waiting for me. These were not nose bleed tickets either. They were in the lower bowl along the third base line. Eureka! Fifteen innings and almost six hours later one of the best sporting events I’ve witnessed in person ended.
Thinking about the whole experience today warms my cynical heart.