On Matt Harvey’s Tuesday Night Brush With Perfection, Was It The Best by a Met All Time?

By: Brian Mangan

A lot has been written about Matt Harvey’s performance on Tuesday night, and rightly so. For those who might not have heard the big news, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey carried a perfect game into the seventh inning, broken up by a weak infield single by Alex Rios with two outs.  He finished the game in dominant fashion, hurling nine innings, allowing only one hit, no runs, no walks, no reach on errors, and tallying twelve strikeouts.  

The Mets removed him before the game went into the tenth inning, so despite his dominance, he did not earn the win.  More importantly, I was there.  It was my thirtieth birthday.  It was AMAZING.

I'm trying to make Harvukkah a thing (or in this case, HARVUKKKKKKKKKKKKAH)
I’m trying to make Harvukkah a thing (or in this case, HARVUKKKKKKKKKKKKAH)

Most of the analysis of Harvey’s performance has centered on either 1) images and videos of his  filthy pitches and  swings-and-misses he induced or 2) talk about the incredible Game Score that he attained in his start (Game Score takes into account innings, hits, runs, strikeouts, etc. to come up with a single number.)

The higher your Game Score the better, and Matt Harvey earned a 97 for his efforts on Tuesday.  A 97 is an incredibly high Game Score.  Put in context, among players in their first twenty starts, it is the fourth highest score ever.  Johan Santana only got a 90 in his no-hitter.  It would have only been third among all starts last season, trailing only the perfect games thrown by Matt Cain (101) and Felix Hernandez (99).

Harvey had a bloody nose before and during the game. – (Photo Credit: AP)
 That got me to thinking – is this the best single start by a Met in the last ten years?  In my lifetime?  All time?
Everyone who has read about Harvey’s perfect game bid over the last few days knows that the last Met to carry a bid as far was Rick Reed in 1998.  But Reed did not finish the way Harvey did.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I took a look at a couple of Mets players and performances to see if anything stacked up.
It turns out Harvey’s game score of 97 is one of the highest that a Met has ever tallied in a nine-inning game.  But how does it compare, in context, to some of the other most dominant Mets’ pitching performances in history?  To take a look, I pulled up box scores from a) generally dominant Mets pitching seasons and b) historic Mets pitching performances that I could remember off the top of my head.  Although this list is not exhaustive, I tried to include the best.  They are ranked in order of personal preference.

(Player, Season – Game Score)

#11 Johan Santana, 2009 – Game Score – 79

April 12 at Fla, 7ip, 3h, 1bb, 13k

Santana announced his presence with authority early in 2009 as the Mets looked to bounce back from a second-straight late season collapse.

#10 Pedro Martinez, 2005 – Game Score: 90

June 7 v Hou 9ip, 2h, 1bb, 12k

A dominant, midseason performance.  Slightly better than his first start of the year against the Reds, as Pedro performed CPR on a flagging franchise.

#9 Doc Gooden, 1985 – Game Score: 92

Sept 16 v PHI, 9ip, 2h, 2bb, 11k

One of the final exclamation points on Doc Gooden’s Cy Young award winning 1985 season.  It was a legendary season, and he finished with a 1.53 ERA (229 ERA+) and 8.7 K/9 in an era where strikeouts were not nearly as plentiful as today.

#8 Johan Santana, 2012 – Game Score: 90

June 1 vs STL, 9ip, 0h, 5bb, 8k

The no-hitter. It is hard to believe that this doesn’t rank higher, but to me, this is the second best start by Santana as a Met.

#7 John Maine, 2007 – Game Score: 89

Sept 29 v FLA, 7.2ip, 1h, 2bb, 14k

I was also fortunate enough to be in attendance for this game.  John Maine, in the second to last game of the season, mowed down the Marlins to keep the Mets’ season alive.  Maine, like his contemporary Oliver Perez, was always an enigma, capable of using that electric high fastball to rack up strikeouts but lacking the control and secondary stuff to put together a dominant season.  He managed a Game Score of 89 in only 7.2 innings, keeping the season alive for one more day.

#6 R.A. Dickey, 2012 – Game Score: 95

June 18 vs TBR, 9ip, 1h, 1r, 13k

This was the no-hitter that wasn’t.  Although not technically his lowest game score of 2012, this was Dickey’s best game.  Oddly enough, this is also the only game on my list where the starting pitcher allowed a run — allowing a reach on error in the ninth and two passed balls which allowed a runner to score on an out.

Dickey was fantastic today, although it proved only to be the first act in a two act play.  Dickey would throw another one-hitter his next time out, becoming the first National Leaguer to allow that few hits in consecutive starts since 1944. (Jim Tobin with the 1944 Boston Braves, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, tossed a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter.)

#5 Johan Santana, 2008 – Game Score: 87

September 27 vs FLA, 9ip, 3h, 3bb, 9k

This was one of the best, gutsiest, clutchest pitching performances of all time.  The Mets had been floundering down the stretch, and turned to their ace on three days rest to keep the season alive.  He did that, and more:

The quotation, scrawled in blue ink, was posted beside the starting lineup, making it impossible not to be noticed. Perhaps that was the point. It read: “It’s time to be a MAN.” It was signed: “Johan.”

No surname was required. The first name would suffice for Johan Santana, who reinforced his standing Saturday by single-handedly keeping the Mets’ postseason hopes alive with one of the greatest pitching performances in franchise history in a 2-0 victory against the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium. Two days after demanding to pitch on short rest — and four days after throwing a career-high 125 pitches — Santana pitched a three-hit shutout, throwing 117 pitches, striking out nine. – New York Times

The most incredible part of that start, aside from it being on short rest, after a game in which he had thrown 120+ pitches, for a paranoid, snake-bitten franchise that had choked the  year before?  The fact that he did so with a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery the next week.  Truly one of the great performances of all time

#4 Al Leiter, 1999 – Game Score: 86

Oct 4 at CIN, 9ip, 2h, 4bb, 7k – 86

No conversation about GUTS can be complete without reference to Al Leiter.  Leiter was the bluest of the blue-collar guys, and — politics and Scott Kazmir aside — I will always cherish his performances in the orange and blue.

On October 4, 1999, Al Leiter pitched one of the best, guttiest games I have ever seen, when he pitched a two hit shutout in a single-game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds, propelling the Mets into the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.  The Mets had won in dramatic walk off fashion in Game #162, and my all-time favorite Met Edgardo Alfonzo lead off the scoring in the play-in game with a two run home run.

Leiter threw 135 pitches that day — he threw 120+ pitches eleven times in 1999 — in a performance that should go down as one of the Mets’ best all time.  He was never pretty, walking four that day, but he sure got the job done.  A little more than a year later, he would throw 142 pitches in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series.

#3 Tom Seaver, generally

July 9, 1969; April 22, 1970; May 15, 1970

What can be said about Seaver and his three masterpieces?  Although, like Harvey, none of the games were “important” like Santana, Leiter, or Maine’s, they were all about AS DOMINANT as you can be. Although the 1970 starts were more dominant, in terms of strikeouts (19 and 15), he walked batters in both.  It is the July 9, 1969 start – the famed “Jimmy Qualls” game – which stands out most, with a Game Score of 96 and a final line of 9ip, 1h, 0r, 0bb, 11k.

Harvey’s game is superior, however, on two grounds — one additional strikeout, and the hit Harvey allowed was an infield hit.

#2 David Cone, 1991 – Game Score: 99

October 6 at Phi, 9ip, 3h, 0r, 1bb, 19k

This is the highest Game Score that I came across in my search, and is the game in which the Mets all-time record for individual strikeouts in a game was tied (Seaver, 1970).  The nineteen strikeouts are indeed impressive, but Cone allowed four baserunners.

#1 Matt Harvey, 2013 – Game Score: 97

May 7 vs CHW, 9ip, 1h, 0bb, 12k

Subjective, of course, but Harvey’s game combines strikeout prowess, no walks, and visual and technical dominance.  Add to the above stat line the fact that the hit allowed was merely an infield hit, and that he cruised through nine innings in only 105 pitches, and you’ve got the formula for the best game ever pitched by a New York Metropolitan.  And I was there.

Remember, fellow Mets fans — let’s not be spoiled by the fact that Johan Santana broke the no-hit curse last year and RA Dickey won the Cy Young award.  This game, as a part of Mets history, was dominant and historic, and would have appeared more so if there had not been so many other great recent performances.

Welcome to the Pantheon, kid.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City, and grew up in Flushing in the shadow of Shea Stadium.  He takes every opportunity possible to mention Edgardo Alfonzo, but loves nothing more than a good pitching performance.

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Postscript:  A big thank you to Metsblog for the referral on the article.  I realize that a few starts with very high Game Scores were omitted from the list — some were oversights, and some were not. One such oversight (as pointed out by commenters) was a start by Chris Capuano on August 26, 2011 against the Braves in which he struck out 13, and allowed two hits and no walks, for a Game Score of 96.

Another oversight was the Bobby Jones one-hitter against the Giants in the 2000 National League Division Series (an oversight made worse in that I was also in attendance).  Jones allowed two walks, striking out five, for a Game Score of 88.

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