NEW YORK — The first and last pitch of the All-Star Game could well be “New York, New York.”
Young ace Matt Harvey of the Mets will start for the National League on his home mound. Mariano Rivera, in his final season, may well finish for the AL.
“Having the opportunity to take the ball is something I’ll never forget,” Harvey said Monday.
On July 16 last year, Harvey was pitching for Triple-A Buffalo against Toledo before 5,885 fans at Coca-Cola Field. On Tuesday night, he’ll be starting against Detroit’s Max Scherzer in front of a sellout crowd at Citi Field and a worldwide television audience.
At 24, Harvey is the youngest All-Star starting pitcher since the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in 1988, when he was 23. Harvey will be the first pitcher from the host team to start an All-Star Game since Houston’s Roger Clemens in 2004 and just the 11th overall.
“It really wouldn’t have mattered what city we were playing in with the year that he’s had, the impressive numbers that he’s put up,” said San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy,” the NL manager. “He would have been the starting pitcher.”
Harvey, 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA and an NL-high 147 strikeouts, has made 29 major league starts — the fewest for an All-Star starter since Hideo Nomo with 13 in 1995. Big league hitters can’t stop talking about his heater.
His fastball velocity of 95.2 mph is 0.1 mph behind Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, the major league leader this year, according to fangraphs.com. Harvey throws the hardest slider and curve in the majors, and he ranks second in swinging strikes at 12.7 percent, just behind Texas’ Yu Darvish (13.3) and ahead of Scherzer (12.3).
“He’s a power guy that attacks hitters,” said Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, a two-time AL batting champion. “He has four above-average pitches.”
Scherzer, 28, had the most dominant first half in a quarter-century, in terms of wins. His 13-0 record before Saturday’s loss to Texas was the most wins in a perfect start since Clemens won his first 14 decisions in 1986.
Detroit’s Justin Verlander was the AL starter and loser last year. Scherzer (13-1, 3.10 ERA) joins him to become the first pitchers from the same club to start consecutive All-Star games since Arizona’s Randy Johnson (2000-01) and Curt Schilling (2002).
“We go throughout the season and we see guys who absolutely deal, and for skipper to give me the nod over those guys just means so much to me,” Scherzer said as he sat next to Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who will pilot the American League squad.
Rivera, at 43 the oldest All-Star this year, sat in Jackie Robinson Rotunda not far from a large blue sculpture of Robinson’s “42” — fitting given that the number was retired for all teams in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the day Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Rivera, grandfathered in, will be the last major leaguer to have that number on his back.
With 30 saves in 32 chances and a 1.83 ERA in his farewell season for the New York Yankees, Rivera is still the best.
“I think it would be probably the most beautiful touch in the world if we could somehow get a lead on the National League and play the ninth inning with the greatest closer of all-time coming out of the bullpen,” Leyland said.
“You can rest assured, he will be on the mound at some point and you will see him pitch, whether it be to a hitter, an inning,” Leyland said. “You will see No. 42 pitch.”
A 13-time All-Star, still slender but his short-cropped hair receded, Rivera has thrown eight scoreless innings in All-Star games and has a record four saves.
“It’s not emotional yet,” he said. “Now, that could change by tomorrow.”