NEW YORK - Dwight Gooden was sitting in the front row Friday night, and Matt Harvey's first duel against Stephen Strasburg made it feel like it was 1985 again.
Harvey's escape from a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the seventh inning was what stood out to the New York Mets after Harvey bested Strasburg in a matchup of young power pitching in the Mets' 7-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Gooden's presence was not lost on Harvey.
"That's something special," said Harvey, who was 5 when Gooden pitched his last game for the Mets in June 1994. "That's something that I was younger, I was wanting to be that kind of guy. I wanted to be like a guy of his caliber."
Harvey allowed four hits and struck out seven without a walk while throwing 68 of 105 pitches for strikes. His biggest three pitches were a 1-2 slider that struck out Kurt Suzuki swinging, a 2-1 fastball that pinch hitter Roger Bernadina fouled out to catcher John Buck and a 1-1 slider that Denard Span softly grounded to second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Those three outs came in succession after the Nationals had loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh, trailing 4-1 at the time.
"He pitched a great game but that's the mark of a true ace right there," New York manager Terry Collins said. "It's late in the game, you're getting tired and he was getting tired and he knew he had to get out of that inning. He reached back for a little extra and made huge pitches. To me, that's why we can't say enough things, but this kid is in the beginning of a long and very successful career, and games like tonight, they can spread to great seasons."
Before getting out of trouble, Harvey had allowed an RBI single to Chad Tracy on a 97 mph fastball. Mets catcher John Buck sensed that the Nationals might have been getting better reads on Harvey's primary pitch, which is why he called for the slider to Suzuki.
"It wasn't so much his off-speed pitches," Buck said. "It was his fastball. He was pumping that in there and I knew that they were having to kind of get going to catch up to it. They were starting to kind of be a little more aggressive early on that, so I went to that changeup, that breaking ball and we got the results we wanted."
"To be honest with you, I didn't throw many sliders for strikes at all tonight," Harvey said. "For him to call that, him having the confidence, I think he gave me one of those aggressive threes (sliders) away and that pumped me up a little bit more."
While Harvey was escaping trouble, the crowd was on its feet urging him on with rhythmic clapping and chants of "Harvey, Harvey".
An inning earlier, they were chanting "Harvey's better" as Strasburg gave up home runs to left-handed hitters Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.
Strasburg did not get the results he wanted in his first loss in four career starts against the Mets. He labored at times through six innings, allowing four runs (two earned) and five hits while throwing 111 pitches.
"Not good enough," Strasburg said. "It's tough. You want to go out there and feel good every time. It was a struggle again. It's still early. Just got to keep battling and keep working hard. I know it's going to come."
"He held us in there," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He was just missing all night, pitching behind hitters all night, threw a lot of pitches. But we had our chances."
Harvey came out more amped up than normal in his first start since taking a no-hitter into the seventh last Saturday in Minnesota. He allowed two hits through the first six innings, including a double to Strasburg and was frequently clocked by stadium radar guns at 97, 98 and sometimes 99.
"I was (worried)," Collins said of Harvey getting too pumped up. "We all were. That's why I said before the game, if these guys get in a game of burnout, who's going to throw harder in the early innings, this is going to be scary to watch, but how long is it going to last. I tell you what, John did a great job of settling him down, getting him back in the game plan, getting him away from kind of overthrowing and I thought he settled in a little bit."
The Mets gave Harvey even more cause to get pumped up by scoring a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the first by capitalizing on an Ian Desmond error at shortstop and using some fundamentally sound base running.
Jordany Valdespin reached when Desmond charged in and bobbled his ground ball. After taking third on a base hit by Murphy, Valdespin scored on a wild pitch. Murphy advanced to third on a David Wright fly ball and scored on Buck's single to shallow left field.
NOTES: Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman did not start because of a tight left hamstring. Zimmerman left Wednesday's game with cramping and went 0-for-4 on Thursday. He is day to day and could sit out Saturday as well. ... Shortstop Danny Espinosa took batting practice but was held out because of continued swelling and bruising in his right hand and wrist. ... The Mets received good news concerning catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud. D'Arnaud suffered a non-displaced fracture of the first metatarsal in his left foot, but the team said the injury would not require surgery. "He's in a boot," manager Collins said. "They want him to do as little as possible for a while -- let that mending start." ... New York right-hander Shaun Marcum continued his recovery from a nerve issue in his neck and shoulder by throwing 41 pitches in an extended spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "He pitched very well," Collins said. "He felt great. We've very excited." The Mets said that the next step for Marcum is throwing 80 pitches.