Twelve years later, Matt Harvey is an Angel trying to earn his way back

TEMPE, Ariz. — There is a place where he may be proud and regretful, where today is just going to have to be better than yesterday and so is just going to have to be good enough, where that guy he knew from way back when remains a work in progress, where that pitcher from the same time remains possible.

Where, in a way, he can be 18 again.

“I wish,” said Matt Harvey, for the first time wearing the colors of the team that drafted him 12 years ago. He smiled.

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If there is such a thing as an old 30, and he’ll be 30 next month, Harvey certainly has put in the time and effort toward it. He has the scars, too. Some of them show. Some, those by his own hand, do not, except that he is here, in this place.

And if you’re thinking maybe Harvey wishes it didn’t all go the way it did, that he has the appetite — the capacity — for compunction at a moment in which the important thing is a good first impression and figuring out how to get his damned ERA under four again, then you’re right. He wishes he worked harder when he was great, because he loved being great, and he maybe didn’t know how much until he wasn’t, and didn’t know how hard it was to stay great. He probably wishes he hadn’t picked some of those fights, or hadn’t fed the fights that weren’t his anyway. And he definitely wishes he’d have allowed himself to heal after the second surgery, the one called thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. But, then, when he had greatness to reclaim and a name to clear the proper course seemed logically to include throwing a baseball as hard as he could as often as he could, which, in the end, benefitted neither his plan for greatness nor his fastball velocity.

It led him here, to that place of pride and regret and, it would seem, resolve, to a corner locker and a sweat-soaked T-shirt the color of Los Angeles Angels red. Once, in 2007, the Angels drafted Matt Harvey, right-handed pitcher, Fitch Senior High School, Groton, Connecticut, in the third round. Three years later, the New York Mets took him out of the University of North Carolina with the seventh overall pick. Since, he’s been a Cy Young Award contender and a fifth-game-of-the-World Series pitcher and a superhero and a cautionary tale and a lot of other stuff that becomes a 41-44 career record and a 3.80 ERA and a free agency that nets a one-year contract (and $11 million, at least).

Which makes him a guy trying to earn his way back. There are plenty of those. Few soared like Harvey in the big city, or fell as hard. Few traveled their twenties at a pace that practically tore their eyebrows off. Few have talked their manager off a mound in the World Series and had a city rise up in its support, no matter the outcome.

What’s left, and for however long, is in this place. He told the story of how he got here, starting with too many phone calls to his agent, Scott Boras, early in the offseason.

“I honestly had no idea what to expect,” he said. “I kept bugging Scott, probably in November. He was kind of laughing at me through the whole process, saying, ‘Just wait and let it play out. You probably won’t hear anything until after the new year.’ So I kind of expected that. Then he actually called me the Monday before Christmas and I thought I was in trouble for something. He called me ‘Matty,’ which is usually a good sign. He says, ‘Matty!’ I go, ‘Oh, thank God.’ I said, ‘Scott, what’s up?’”

Matt Harvey went 7-9 with a 4.94 ERA in 2018 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. (Getty Images)
Matt Harvey went 7-9 with a 4.94 ERA in 2018 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. (Getty Images)

The Angels had called.

“It kind of brings everything back to the beginning,” Harvey said. “I kind of look at it as a fresh start. It was exciting. Obviously, [I’ll be] probably closer to Scott than I need to be every single day, but … ”

He laughed.

“No,” he said, “it was great. I know he’s excited. I’m definitely excited.”

Harvey said his arm feels good. Along with some clunky ones, he had some reasonable starts near the end of the season, with Cincinnati, when the ball near jumped from his hand, like the old days. So, whatever that was, it’s still in there, he figures, and now it’s just a matter of earning more. With consistent work. With honest effort. With a body that feels whole again, and is leaner than it’s been in years. With humility.

“When you start you want to be the best,” he said. “And I was at one point. In 2013, I would say I was up there with the best. At that time you think you’re just going to continue to be the best and not go through any tough times. I thought I was going to be a Met my whole career and be happy with everything that ever happened and play 18 years and be a mentor the last three years. But, that’s very unlikely to happen. And I wish I knew that going into it or had someone to tell me that type of stuff. I would say I’m happy for the experiences I’ve been through. But for the rest of my career, I think it’ll better me as a teammate as a player. … It’s definitely lit a fire under my rear end and has made me strive for being better.”

He could talk about it all he wanted, answer the questions, promise better, hint at greatness again, and he also could narrow his eyes, as he did, and say none of it matters but the pitching. Eighteen isn’t coming back. Neither is 2013, not like that. So this is the part where he decides what to become and gets to the business of that, and just that. After all, it can only be a comeback if he’s been there before. He has been there before. He has been great. But not always. That’s the interesting part.

“I’m disappointed in myself for sure,” Harvey said. “There’s a lot of things, going back to that, the working harder, the competitiveness that people may think that I was fighting against something, when I really was just fighting against myself. It’s me who was disappointed in what I was not able to bring to the team and to the city of New York at the time. It was me who was beating myself up. That was the tough part. Another life lesson to look back and not lash out and do things that I did. But you learn from them and move on from them. That’s another thing that helped me last year, going to a young team, being able to take some of the failures and some of the issues that I had and really make sure none of them follow those footsteps. It was fun for me to be able to do that. Now it’s fun to flush both scenarios and become … an Angel.”

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