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With Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg on the Mound, Citi Field Takes Center Stage

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COMMENTARY | Last July, after Matt Harvey struck out 11 batters in his major league debut, New York Mets manager Terry Collins compared the rookie to two of the best pitchers in the game.

"I've talked to scouts who think he is a three or a four [starter], let me tell you something, that's No. 1 kind of stuff right there, that's [Justin] Verlander, [Stephen] Strasburg stuff," the New York Post reports Collins saying following Harvey's first start last season.

Tonight at Citi Field, it's Harvey vs. Strasburg, in the first of what should be many showdowns between the two young stars.

Believe it or not, Harvey has been the better of the two so far this season. He was named the National League's Player of the Week for the week ending last Sunday, and with good reason. In three starts, he's 3-0 with an earned run average of 0.82. He's given up just six hits and only one earned run while striking out 25 in 22 innings.

Not that Strasburg has been bad (1-2 with a 2.95 ERA), but Harvey's been off-the-charts good in his first three starts.

Harvey is 24 and in his second season with a team expected to finish in fourth place in the NL East. Strasburg is 24 and in his fourth season with a team that's a favorite to win the World Series. Still, when they meet tonight, because of the starting pitchers, the Mets and Nationals are on equal footing.

The Mets (7-7) are struggling right now, having lost three straight to the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals (9-6) are in better shape, but the 13-2 Atlanta Braves have proved to be for real. While Washington has suddenly realized that the road to October baseball won't be an easy one, the Mets are in the process of looking for a path to take them to that road.

But, tonight, none of that matters because here's the thing: If you're a baseball fan, tonight's game is a must-watch. This game isn't just for Mets and Nationals fans. It's for all fans of all teams. If you're a Yankees fan and your team is playing the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays -- if you consider yourself a baseball fan -- then you need to watch Mets-Nationals tonight. That goes for every other fan of every other team in baseball. If you claim to be a baseball fan -- and this game is available for you to watch -- your team will have to wait until tomorrow.

In baseball, this is as good as it gets. This is right there with CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander two weeks ago. These guys might not be as established as those two aces, but because of the age and potential of both, both rising at the same time and playing in the same division, this one has even more drama attached to it.

Based on what he said earlier this week, it appears Harvey understands the hype.

"It's the first game home after a long road trip, the Nationals have a good lineup and you've got Strasburg on the mound Friday night," Harvey said according to the New York Daily News. "It's going to be fun and I am looking forward to it."

Collins seems to have all the confidence in the world in his young right-hander.

"Matt Harvey doesn't want to be a guy. He wants to be The Guy," Collins said according to the Post article. "This guy wants to be great."

Tonight, he gets his chance.

Throw records and expectations out the door. Good starting pitching keeps you in games. Great starting pitching trumps everything else. Tonight, two pitchers with star written all over them will take the mound at Citi Field.

The eyes of the baseball world will be watching.

Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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