Matt Harvey sounded like a guy who had just gotten pounded.
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“You guys know me. In my mind, I sucked. And I have to be better,” the Mets’ right-handed phenom told reporters Wednesday night.
Sucked? I guess it’s all relative.
Harvey, 24, “failed” to join Fernando Valenzuela as only the second pitcher since 1960 to open a season pitching seven innings or more and allowing one run or less in five straight starts.
But if the kid was so terrible, tell it to the approximately 400 fans who paid $45 for seats in the left-field corner at Citi Field and orange T-shirts that said, “Stand Up for Harvey,” on the front and “K” (for strikeout) on the back.
It was the Mets’ version of the “King’s Court” in Seattle, their first attempt to replicate the excitement generated by Felix Hernandez’s starts at Safeco Field. Rest assured, the section is only going to grow bigger — and louder.
Yes, Harvey allowed a two-run, opposite-field homer by the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp that broke a 1-1 tie with two outs in the sixth inning. But the Mets fought back, rallying to tie the score in the ninth on a two-out single by David Wright, and winning, 7-3, on a grand slam by Jordany Valdespin in the 10th — their first walkoff grand slam in nearly 22 years.
It was a good night, a very good night, for the Mets — but to Harvey, not quite good enough. Afterward, he made sure to praise his offense, his defense, his bullpen, instructing reporters to talk to those players, who in his mind were the true heroes of the game.
Harvey demands so much of himself — and set the bar so high in his first four starts — he actually was disappointed to allow three runs in six innings.
“Matt Kemp is going to do that to a lot of guys. He’s done that to a lot of great pitchers,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “The ball just got out of the ballpark.”
True enough — Kemp’s homer came on a 2-0 fastball following a two-out walk to Adrian Gonzalez, and required a video review after barely clearing the wall in the right-field corner.
Afterward, Kemp was full of praise for Harvey, saying, “If he stays healthy, he’s going to be a really good pitcher.”
“How old is he?” Kemp asked a reporter.
Told 24, Kemp smiled.
“He’s going to be all right.”
Kemp is not alone in that opinion. Earlier Wednesday, a veteran scout called Harvey “the real deal,” saying he upgraded his rating from a No. 3 starter the first time he saw him pitch this season to a No. 1 after the second.
“He has the most powerful slider I’ve seen in a really long time,” the scout said. “It’s like the ball hits a pane of glass two inches in front of home plate and just goes down.”
Naturally, though, some already are tired of the hype.
One Dodgers player shouted at reporters as he disappeared into the shower Wednesday night, chiding them for asking Kemp about Harvey after such a difficult loss.
Another opposing player who recently faced Harvey said he was, “no Strasburg,” referring to Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals’ ace.
Strasburg, that player said, has a better fastball than Harvey — and Strasburg’s average fastball velocity, according to the PitchFX data on Fangraphs.com, is indeed higher than Harvey’s in their respective major league careers, 96.2 mph to 94.6.
But Harvey, as the scout noted, has that vicious slider, not to mention an above-average curveball and emerging changeup that on Wednesday night had terrific movement, tailing in on right-handed hitters.
And though the sample size is small — Harvey, after all, has made only 15 career starts — Wright said the most impressive thing about him is that he is pitching with greater efficiency this season than he did in 2012.
Strasburg has completed seven innings only nine times in 50 starts, and never more. Harvey went at least seven in each of his first four outings this season, and a career-high eight in Minnesota on April 13.
His pitches per inning last season: 16.5.
His pitches per inning this season: 14.5.
“Last year, when he got called up, he was this raw flame-thrower, this young guy that was trying to strike everyone out,” Wright said. “A few times he did, strike out nine or 10. But he’d maybe be out after five innings.
“What he learned is to be a lot more efficient, pitch to contact. He’s still going to get his strikeouts. But he’s pitching into the sixth or seventh inning, and that’s huge for us. It’s a long season. It saves our bullpen. And ultimately, he’ll be more successful.”
Wright said that Harvey is a studious sort, watching pitchers such as the Phillies’ Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee from the dugout, learning the value of getting ahead in counts. On Wednesday night, Harvey threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 23 hitters, striking out seven, walking one. For the season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly four-to-one.
Mets catcher John Buck said that he and Harvey went out to dinner after the pitcher’s eight-inning masterpiece in Minnesota, in which he allowed only two hits, two walks and one run.
Harvey, according to Buck, wanted to know, “What could I have done better?” The two discussed how Harvey could tone it down when rather than “muscle up” in big situations, with Buck saying, “Better to relax, let it happen, be strong all game.”
“He’s not satisfied. Some kids may think, ‘I’ve got it all figured out,’” Buck said. “He’s very far from that.”
How far? Matt Harvey thought he sucked on a night when he actually was quite good.