This was Matt Harvey’s second beginning. 

The right-hander busted into the major leagues and immediately became the ace of the New York Mets as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012 after spending just one full season in the minors. That was the first beginning—Harvey’s breakout into the realm of top-flight starters.

But after 2013, his first full MLB campaign, solidified him as one of Major League Baseball’s true aces, Tommy John surgery hit and buried Harvey for all of 2014, leaving questions about his ace-hood entering last spring.

Harvey answered just about all of them, sans late-season inquiries about his innings limit that ended up as back-page drama for the New York tabloids. And on Thursday, the 30 beat writers for awarded the now-26-year-old the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award after he finished with a 2.71 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 189.1 regular-season innings. Texas Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder won the honor in the American League.

Harvey didn’t need the award as validation for his success, but now there are no lingering doubts about his status as a bona fide ace even after he missed a year because of his significant elbow injury.

Harvey had his struggles this season as the Mets attempted to tamp down his innings from the outset. Three times he allowed seven runs in a 2015 outing. But he also showed more than just the occasional flash of brilliance by shutting out his opponent nine times—though he was never allowed to throw a complete game because of those innings limitations.

Harvey also had his share of controversy this year. In late August his agent, Scott Boras, emailed Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to inform the team that the pitcher was on a hard innings cap—180 maximum—that was not to be overshot. The strict limit was news to the organization, which was already carefully monitoring Harvey’s pitch counts and innings anyway.

Harvey did not help matters by refusing to take a definitive side in the days after the controversy broke. Instead, he issued veiled comments that seemed to side with his agent, potentially leaving the team down one of its aces as the postseason approached.

“As far as being out there, being with my teammates and playing, I’m never going to want to stop, but as far as the surgeon and my agent having my back and kind of looking out for the best of my career, they’re obviously speaking their minds about it,” Harvey told reporters on Sept. 5, a month before the Mets started their playoff run to the World Series.

Those comments and Harvey’s refusal to come out and say he would pitch for the Mets in the postseason regardless of where his innings total stood led to this epic New York Daily News front page:

Harvey ultimately pitched without hard limits in the postseason and allowed nine earned runs in four starts (3.04 ERA in 26.2 innings). Those turns brought his total innings to 216, the most in major league history for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

“As a starting pitcher and being a younger guy, I think getting to that 200-innings limit is something you always look for,” Harvey told reporters a day before he started Game 5 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. “You kind of want to be a horse and go out there, and you look at guys who have thrown 230 innings year after year after year, that’s kind of somebody who I’ve always wanted to be.”

Harvey ultimately pitched eight-plus innings and allowed two runs in the Mets loss, which clinched the World Series for the Royals. But he had gone eight shutout innings before talking manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the ninth, something Collins had not allowed him to do since April and rightfully drew criticism for afterward.

Regardless, Harvey proved he was back.

He proved he would pitch for his team with the season on the line regardless of the tax on his surgically repaired elbow. He proved he was still an ace even with a missing season on his resume, and that going forward he is capable of leading the Mets’ ridiculously talented rotation.

The injury is now in Harvey’s past. So is the crazy controversy sparked by his agent and, for a time, facilitated by himself. And unless something completely unexpected happens in his future, he is no longer easy fodder for malicious back and front pages of the New York papers.

For the Dark Knight, the future seems bright.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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