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An Inside Look at Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey will toe the rubber for the Mets in Game 1 of the World Series tonight. (Arturo Pardavila III: Flickr)

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On Tuesday night the New York Mets will take the field in Kansas City to face the Royals in game one of the World Series. It’s the team’s biggest game in 15 years, since the 2000 World Series which they lost to the New York Yankees. On the hill for the Mets will be Matt Harvey.

Harvey, taking the ball in the Mets’ biggest game in years, would have been easy to see coming in the summer of 2013. That season Harvey was taking the baseball world by storm and was rewarded by starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field. Harvey, the first of New York’s top pitching prospects to arrive in the majors, gave Mets fans the first glimpse of how great the future could be.

But late in the summer of Harvey’s breakout season, he encountered the same diagnosis that more and more modern pitchers are. Harvey had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the injury that leads to Tommy John Surgery. Harvey originally tried to avoid the surgery by attempting to rehab his arm. He revealed on Monday while speaking to the media in Kansas City that it was during this time that he had his doubts about returning.

“Obviously it took about two months to finding out I had a slight tear to actually going in and having surgery,” Harvey said. “So I think in those two months there was probably a lot of things that went through my head, if I was going to be the same player or same pitcher or even close to coming back.”

In October Harvey did elect to have the surgery, which has become much too common among pitchers but comes with a relatively good success rate.

“Once I decided I wanted to have surgery, all those doubts and thoughts and especially negative thoughts definitely went out the window,” Harvey said. “I knew I was going to go see the best surgeon in the world [Dr. James Andrews] and have the best staff behind me and training program. From then on it was kind of a no-doubter that I knew I’d be back.”

And so the road back began for Harvey, looking at the usual 12-15 month recovery time the estimate was that he would miss all of 2014 and be back in a Mets uniform for Opening Day in 2015. All through his rehab, Harvey himself continued to push the possibility of a 2014 return. It never happened, the Mets never let it happen and instead focused on having their ace ready to start this season.

While nobody knows what would have happened had Harvey pitched at all in 2014, it looks like the decision to not rush his rehab paid off for the Mets. Harvey went 13-8 this past regular season recording 188 strikeouts in just under 190 innings while posting a 2.71 ERA.

The regular season was not without controversy for Harvey however after his agent Scott Boras raised a hullabaloo in early September over how many innings he had pitched. Boras insisted that it would be best for Harvey to not pitch more than 180 innings coming off of surgery and after pitching just over 178 in 2013 and none in 2014. Boras’ outcry raised concerns over whether Harvey would be able to pitch in the postseason if the Mets made it.

“The last thing I ever wanted to do is put the ball down,” Harvey explained looking back on the situation Monday. “But obviously I knew as a player and as a person in general that any player in this game wants to play this game for a long time and be healthy. It brought up a concern. As a human being, besides being an athlete, your career and your health is always a natural thing to worry about.”

Harvey continued that he felt there were some people who threw him under the bus a little bit while the situation was occurring. The Mets did do a few things to limit Harvey’s innings at times in September, but Harvey declared early on that he had plans on pitching in the postseason and when he took the ball against the Cincinnati Reds with a chance to clinch a postseason berth he held nothing back.

Mets manager Terry Collins revealed on Monday that it was after Harvey had to be pulled after five innings during a fantastic outing against the Yankees in mid-September that it was decided that he could not be held back every start in the future.

“Couple days later he walked in and said, listen, we’re going to get in the postseason and I’ve got to be ready and I’m not ready,” Collins told the story of a conversation he had with Harvey. “He said, my next two starts I’ve got to throw at least a hundred pitches to get myself back where I need to be.”

Collins talked to Mets’ general manager Sandy Alderson following the exchange with Harvey, and Alderson told Collins if Harvey thought he had to pitch more to get ready for the postseason they would try and get him ready. Collins also revealed that since that meeting it’s really been just him and Harvey deciding how much he would pitch. “I don’t think we’ve needed to go elsewhere as long as I know he’s ready to go,” Collins said.

The Mets held Harvey back a little bit in their NLDS matchup with the Dodgers, opting to pitch him just once in game three of the series. But by having him go in game three it allowed Harvey to be the pitcher to start the first postseason game in Citi Field history. It also lined Harvey up to throw game one of the NLCS against the Cubs, in which he went seven and two thirds innings allowing two runs on four hits while striking out nine.

And now after questions throughout September of how much Harvey will be able to pitch in the postseason, he will get the ball in game one of the World Series, a possible game five and then would be available in game seven in relief with no innings limits being mentioned.

“It’s about the competition side and being out there with your teammates, and he wants to do that,” Collins said. “So I’m not shocked by it. And I’m thrilled that he said give me the baseball, because he’s going to get it.”

Now at this point Collins admitted there is only one factor that will decide how much Harvey will pitch. “Kansas City will decide how long Matt is going to pitch. I have all the confidence in the world that he's going to get deep.”

As the Mets get deeper into October, Harvey continues to feel fine. He’s entered a world of unknown coming off of surgery and so far, so good.

“I think leading into the season you don’t know what to expect,” Harvey said. “Obviously going from zero innings to I think 202 now, I couldn’t be happier. And obviously that number is still going to creep up. I think the best thing and the post positive thing is how I feel after the 200-inning mark, and quite honestly, it’s probably better than I did at the 100 mark.”

Harvey continued, “For me the season was obviously an extreme success, just being healthy, playing, going out there every fifth day or whenever it was and being healthy and where we are now. I don’t think anybody’s happier at that than I am.”

When Harvey started the All-Star Game in 2013 he was a sign that the Mets could become serious World Series contenders once again. The path to get to the World Series became bumpy for Harvey and the Mets late that summer, but they have now gotten there and their game one starter is Matt Harvey.