Last month, there were enough questions as to whether Matt Harvey would even pitch in the playoffs, that he had to write a piece on Derek Jeter’s Players’ Tribune website titled “I Will Pitch in the Playoffs.” By the time the NLDS arrived, the worst of the controversy over Harvey’s innings limit was behind him, though he didn’t have his best stuff in his Game 3 win against the Dodgers. But in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs on Saturday night, he reminded us all why the long-term health of his right arm is so important in the first place. Harvey threw seven and two-thirds innings of two-run ball, striking out nine to earn the win as the Mets topped Chicago 4-2 to take the first game of the NLCS.
Harvey didn’t allow a baserunner until the fifth inning, when he lost his no-hitter, perfect game, and shut out in the span of two pitches. But he allowed just one other run — a 459-foot Kyle Schwarber solo bomb on the 97th and final pitch he threw — and generally looked like the ace he’s been billed as. Best of all, Harvey kept his pitch count reasonable against the team that saw the most pitches per plate appearance this year, thus allowing him to last into the eighth inning.
This series has been hyped as a match-up between the Mets’ young pitchers and the Cubs’ young hitters, and in the first battle, Terry Collins’s club came out on top. The Cubs had smacked ten home runs in the NLDS against St. Louis, including six in Game 3, but Harvey’s the kind of pitcher they can struggle against. Via Baseball Reference, the Cubs had the fifth-worst OPS in the majors against power pitching, and Harvey’s one of the hardest throwers in baseball. (His four-seam fastball was the fourth hardest among qualified pitchers this year.)
And so Game 1 might have been a bad sign of things to come for the Cubs. Via ESPN, the Cubs also hit a National League–worst .229 in at-bats ending in a pitch of at least 94 miles per hour, and no team in the N.L. swung and missed more often on such pitches. The Mets, of course, will send out Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom — also among the league’s hardest throwers — in Games 2 and 3. How much power do the Mets’ power arms have? Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard ranked second, fourth, and fifth among N.L. pitchers, respectively, in the number of pitches thrown at 94 miles an hour or faster.
The Mets got on the board early in Game 1, when Daniel Murphy drove up his free-agent value even more with a solo home run in the bottom of the first. (Murphy, who hit one homer off a lefty all season, has now hit three in the playoffs: two off Clayton Kershaw and one off Jon Lester.) After the Cubs tied the game in the fifth, the Mets answered right back, regaining the lead in the bottom of the inning on a Curtis Granderson RBI single. An inning later, Travis d’Arnaud gave the Mets an insurance run with a long home run that Skee-Balled into the casing of the home-run apple in straightaway center field. And a Granderson sacrifice fly in the seventh gave the Mets a 4-1 lead.
Schwarber’s homer — the first allowed by a Mets starter in this postseason — cut the lead to 4-2, but Jeurys Familia, who’s quietly been amazing in these playoffs, got the final four outs to nail down the win.
The Mets now look to take a 2-0 series lead tomorrow night at Citi Field. Syndergaard gets the ball for New York, against Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta.