NEW YORK - There was the homecoming for the hero of Flushing, Matt Harvey, making his first start at Citi Field since 2013.
There were the chants of his last name, the crowd serenading the righthander, as he threw his final warmup pitches.
There were back-to-back strikeouts to begin the night, sending the ballpark into bedlam. And then there was Chase Utley, launching a dagger into the night, with a line-drive home run, the first of his two on the night, into a corner he's made his own at the 7-year-old ballpark, shutting up everyone in New York all at once.
And that was only the first half-inning of the most entertaining game of the young season for the Phillies, and arguably the best contest between the longtime National League East foes in a half-dozen years.
The Phillies seemed energized with the opportunity to spoil Harvey's first Citi Field start in two seasons, scoring more runs off him in the first three innings than they scored against him in three games in 2013. Still, they couldn't manufacture a win.
David Buchanan put the Phillies down four runs after two innings, and despite the pitcher's rebounding and the offense's chipping away at Harvey, the Phils fell, 6-5, last night. The Phillies (3-5) must win tonight to avoid their first sweep of the season before heading to Washington for a four-game series.
"That's kind of been characteristic of the guys early in the season here, to fight back and keep battling," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Chase really broke out in a big way, had a very good night. And our bullpen did a pretty good job. Came up a little short, but the guys did show fight right down to the end."
At the outset, the Mets faithful made it feel like a postseason game, as the pitcher dubbed "The Dark Knight" took the mound. The 26-year-old Harvey, who started theAll-Star Game and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting in his first full big-league season 2 years ago, missed all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Harvey was back to himself this spring, and also in his season debut a week ago in Washington, clearly outdueling Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg in a Mets victory. And again last night, when he quickly dispatched each of the game's first two hitters, Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis, dialing up 99 mph on his second straight strikeout to begin the night.
"He looked good, very good fastball," Sandberg said. "Dominant curveball."
But Harvey is, in fact, human, and Utley, who was off to the worst start of his career, dialed the hype machine down a dozen notches or so when he hit his first home run of the season three batters in. The one run matched the output the Phillies managed off Harvey in 20 innings against him in 2013.
Utley broke out of his 2-for-22 funk, homering in his first and last at-bats and finishing the night 3-for-3 with three RBI.
"Sometimes when a great player faces another great player, it brings the best out of him," Sandberg said. "Chase rose to the occasion, rose to the challenge of facing a very good pitcher. I think he stepped up and gave us boost early."
Utley was hit by a pitch in the fifth inning, right between the 2 and 6 on the back of his jersey, three innings after Buchanan plunked two Mets batters on the hand with pitches. Both benches were warned.
Minutes later, Mets manager Terry Collins was ejected for arguing a catcher interference's call that put Ryan Howard on the basepaths for the first (and only) time all night. When Howard reached, it loaded the bases, following Utley and Buchanan, the latter leading off the frame with a double off Harvey.
Harvey was not totally himself.
He allowed a solo home run to Cody Asche that cut the Mets' lead to 4-3 in the fourth, and benefited from strong defense, too. But Harvey struck out Howard with two runners on in the third, and, in the sixth, escaped the aforementioned bases-loaded jam when Carlos Ruiz popped out to third.
The Phils hung in against Harvey. They were toe-to-toe with the Mets through the duration of a game that had everything from ill-timed bunts (a botched safety squeeze from Galvis), two useless replay reviews and even a John Mayberry Jr. sighting.
"It was a fun game to play," Asche said. "A lot of different things going on in that game, with the hype of Harvey, a couple of pitches getting away from that inning and them coming back and hitting Chase. It was intense."
But trying to topple "The Dark Knight" after he's spotted a 4-1 lead after two innings?
That was simply too much to much to ask of a team that had failed to score more than four runs in any game this season before Jeff Francoeur hit a last-ditch, solo home run in the ninth inning.
"It's good to see the bats going, the power, and did some of it against a good pitcher," Sandberg said. "Hopefully that's the start of something."
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