DENVER — The sight of it all has been disconcerting, like a man with a fleet of Maseratis suddenly pulling up in a dinged-up Hyundai. This season, Matt Harvey’s starts largely have taken on this image-distorting quality, and Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rockies proved no different.
After 5 2/3 innings of punishment sent Harvey into full retreat, the embattled ace scurried for shelter in the visitors’ dugout, his head down, his jacket pulled up, as if to shield a face that already has graced magazines.
There is no shame in struggling. But the ace’s season has been little more than a series of bumps. On their own, they could be dismissed as off nights. Taken together, they paint a portrait of a pitcher that barely resembles himself.
Harvey’s raw power and guile made him into an All-Star and one of the best young pitchers in baseball. But on Friday, he looked pedestrian and ordinary, forced to live like everyone else.
The Rockies drove home the point, tagging Harvey for five runs and 11 hits, the most he’s surrendered this season. It is the most hits he allowed in a start since Aug. 2013, when he gave up 13 hits to the Tigers. Just a few days later, doctors discovered a torn ligament in his prized right elbow.
Harvey’s dominant return from Tommy John surgery last season helped to power the Mets’ first trip to the World Series since 2000. This year, he’s being counted upon to help the Mets resolve unfinished business.
But Harvey offered up another reason to wonder if the 216 innings he threw last season took a lingering toll on his arm. His latest setback comes after what appeared to be a quantum leap forward.
In his previous outing on Sunday, Harvey held the Padres to two runs in six innings. He struck out 10 — the first time all season he finished in double-digits. And for the first time all season, Harvey’s fastball hummed as it did last season, when he averaged nearly 96 mph.
Against the Padres, Harvey touched 98.7 mph and averaged 96.5, easily his best totals of the season. After the game, the righthander said that he felt comfortable with his mechanics, at long last. He was trending upward.
Then, in the thin air of Coors Field, the bottom fell out. Harvey touched 95 mph several times but not once after the third inning. He leaned on sliders and changeups. And the Rockies adjusted, erasing a 2-0 deficit with two runs in the fourth inning. They never looked back.
To put it all on Harvey would be laying too much blame at his feet. It wasn’t the pitcher who misplayed Gerardo Parra’s single into an RBI triple. That mistake belonged to leftfielder Michael Conforto.
But while Harvey battled — a lesser pitcher would have been subjected to a harsher night — it was clear that the Rockies would be the aggressors.
Mark Reynolds tied it in the fourth, singling up the middle to score Parra. Harvey helped kill the rally by getting a double play, though trouble once again found him in the fifth.
Rockies righthander Jon Gray lined his first big-league hit to start the fifth and Charlie Blackmon followed with a well-placed bunt. Trevor Story ripped a run-scoring double to left to push the Rockies ahead 3-2.
Again, Harvey showed a measure of mental toughness, refusing any more damage after the Rockies had runners on second and third with nobody out.
Grit wasn’t enough. Harvey needed to be the physically imposing force he once was. But when he didn’t show, the Rockies finished him off in the sixth. Tony Wolters poked a single through the hole, scoring D.J. LeMahieu, who reached on a one-out double.
Two batters later, with Harvey watching from the dugout and Jerry Blevins on in relief, Blackmon doubled off the rightfield fence to score Wolters. The run was charged to Harvey, who hung his head in the dugout, a watered-down version of his former self.