NEW YORK -- One year and two weeks into his big league career, Matt Harvey's life remains a clutter of pitch counts and innings limits. On an organizational level, the Mets continue to make decisions about him far above his pay grade. They will almost certainly shut him down at some point this season.
Manager Terry Collins understands all that, and accepts it, but also knows his job is to mold Harvey's star within the confines of those limits. So despite a litany of reasons why he might not have let Harvey finish off his first career shutout Wednesday night -- a four-hit, 5-0 masterpiece over the Rockies -- Collins stuck with his ace.
"You don't have many opportunities to pitch shutouts," Collins said. "He needs to know how to do it."
It was a bucket-list item for Harvey, the way some people might consider skydiving or a trip to Europe. Though he had done little but excel over his first year-plus in the big leagues, Harvey had never pitched a complete-game shutout. Twice this season, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Six times, he struck out double-digit batters. Once in May he even fired a nine-inning one-hitter, only to take a no-decision in an extra-inning victory.
But never a shutout. So despite Harvey's impending innings limit, and despite the line drive that ricocheted off his right kneecap with two outs in the ninth, Collins wanted his young ace to finish it.
The last batter was Troy Tulowitzki -- the most fearsome Rockies slugger with Carlos Gonzalez injured. Falling behind, 2-0, Harvey eventually ran the count to 3-2 on a 98-mph fastball, his 105th pitch of the night. He said afterward that he felt so strong, he might have been able to keep pitching if needed.
But Harvey did not want to. Nor did the 27,581 spectators at Citi Field, most of whom were on their feet at that point, chanting his name as he stared in, came to the set ... and stepped off the mound.
"I was so locked in," Harvey said, "that I completely forgot to look at the signs."
A second glance revealed that catcher John Buck wanted a slider, which Harvey delivered over the heart of the plate at 91 mph. Tulowitzki popped it up to seal the shutout.
"When he's on, he's one of those guys you're not going to string a lot of hits together off of," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said, before adding: "He was on."
"He was dirty," clarified Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who has faced 1,231 different pitchers over his 17-year career. "As good as I've seen in a long, long time. They found them a good pitcher."
The requisite offense came early for Harvey, on RBI singles from Omar Quintanilla in the second inning and Buck in the fourth, both off Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin. Rookie Wilmer Flores then blew the game open with a three-run double in the eighth, six innings after recording his first Major League hit.
But the night belonged to Harvey, despite the fact that -- according to Collins, at least -- he was actually performing at less than full strength.
The evidence was there; though Harvey may have appeared formidable from the start, his fastball ranged mostly from 93-95 mph, a few ticks slower than his best. Harvey struck out only three of the first 17 batters he faced -- impressive, but somewhat mundane for a pitcher who leads the National League in strikeout rate.
The key, everyone agreed, was his ability to induce weak contact, resulting in quick outs and a low pitch count.
"When we had chances to put [guys] away, he did that," Buck said. "When we had counts where we could produce a ground ball, or take advantage of a guy being really aggressive ... he did that."
Harvey had thrown only 91 pitches when he came out for the ninth, hitting the century mark on a fastball that Charlie Blackmon smoked off his leg. Though Harvey called it "nothing," Collins knew he was downplaying the pain. But the manager also understood that this was a chance for something rare -- particularly "in our world today, where six innings with less than three runs is a quality start."
"Guys get paid for quality starts," Collins said. "To have that beast that wants to go out there for the ninth, especially with a five- or six-run lead? Very unique, and it's good to have him."
The Mets may have Harvey for only three or four dozen more innings this summer, before shutting him down in an effort to reduce the stress on his developing right arm. They did the same thing last year with great success, and are giving him a bit more rope this season. The goal is that by 2014, Harvey will be able to pitch without restrictions.
Imagine what he might be able to do then.
"My mindset's never going to be not to throw a complete game," Harvey said. "That's always my approach. That always going to be my approach. And fortunately enough tonight, it happened."