By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – He doesn’t say it, perhaps because it doesn’t seem to need to be said, but Matt Harvey, once the Dark Knight of Gotham, knows he’s something of a fallen star.
After all, it feels like yesterday that Mets fans wished each other a “happy Harvey day!” every fifth day when the best home-grown starter the organization had seen since Dwight Gooden was taking the mound.
A lot has happened since then.
But near the left field line of a high school baseball field more than seven years removed from starting two games in the World Series, Harvey, a free agent with no contract for the 2023 season and no invitation to spring training, is looking forward to the World Baseball Classic, where he’ll play for Italy.
“I was actually kind of surprised that they found out,” Harvey said of his Italian heritage. “We had our Italian Sunday night dinners and a huge family get together every holiday. On Christmas Eve, I remember having all the fishes… Just to be able to put the uniform on, represent the country and my heritage, it’s really special.”
The innings he’ll throw during pool play in Taichung City, Taiwan might be the most visible, televised tryout any former ace looking for a chance to return to the top of a Major League Baseball hill has ever undertaken.
“As a free agent and getting a little bit older, it’s always a tough situation, so I’m very blessed to have this opportunity,” Harvey said on the field at Notre Dame Preparatory High School, his Italy teammates doing fielding drills.
He’s the veteran of this team, the oldest player, the biggest name by far, with the biggest of big game experience: He’s a pitcher who’s appeared in the World Series in New York.
And without a contract, Harvey had a full offseason to rest and recover at his own pace. His deal with Baltimore expired after the 2022 season, 60 games of which were burned while serving a suspension for distributing oxycodone to his Angels teammates in Los Angeles. He last appeared in an MLB game in 2021, a year that saw him make 28 starts for the Baltimore Orioles, throwing 127.2 innings with a 6.27 ERA, a WHIP of 1.543 and 95 strikeouts.
“To have a full offseason and being able to really get ready, and a little bit of extra time this year, obviously, with not signing with the team and going to spring training,” Harvey said, “I really had time to push it and get things where I needed them to be. I’ve been throwing a lot and doing a lot of lifting and my body is feeling great.”
“It’s a very good showcase to go out there, pitch well, put up some good numbers, and do everything I can to help the team win and see what happens,” he said, the McDowell Mountains looming behind him.
Though there’s a touch of gray in his beard, Harvey knows that the silver lining of pitching in the WBC for Italy would be one probably-final shot to recapture the magic that made him, for a magical few years.
As does his manager, Mike Piazza.
“If he wants to continue to play this game, he’s gonna have to play well in this tournament,” Piazza said while Italy’s position players finished up batting practice.. “… It’s always good to have guys that have an incentive, you know, a little carrot hanging over and incentivizing them to play well.”
With pitchers limited to 65 pitches per appearance during pool play, Harvey won’t get to extend his auditions beyond four or so innings unless Italy makes it out of pool play at the World Baseball Classic, and with Cuba, the Netherlands, Panama, and Chinese Taipei in Pool A, there is a mountain for Italy to climb. Italy opens the World Baseball Classic against Cuba on March 9 at 6 a.m. ET. The game will be streamed on Tubi.
But he’ll face live batters, live batters who can hit, live batters from the best leagues around the world, live batters who will give the 33-year-old a chance to show he can still play the game at the highest level.
“You have to succeed against good opposition and then be able to handle tight situations and big crowds,” Harvey said. “Tight situations can either fold you or make you who you are. Luckily, I’ve pitched in some pretty tight, intense games and I have the experience.”
He’ll have two more games to harness that experience and earn another summer in the sun, two more games, halfway around the world, for the Dark Knight to try to rise again.
Follow Leif Skodnick on twitter @LeifSkodnick.