First career save is extra meaningful for Harvey

PHOENIX – The message from Bryan Harvey was already on his son’s phone, waiting for him when he arrived back in the Nationals clubhouse following Sunday’s dramatic, 9-8 win over the Diamondbacks.

“He already texted me and said I’m 176 behind him,” Hunter Harvey said with a laugh.

It’s a message Bryan Harvey surely had been waiting to send for years, and one Hunter Harvey had been waiting to receive for years. Though he was originally drafted by the Orioles a decade ago as a starter, injuries derailed the right-hander’s chances of making it to the majors in that role.

Harvey became a full-time reliever in 2019, profiling as an obvious future closer because of his ability to throw a baseball 100 mph. But not until Sunday did he actually find himself on the mound in the ninth inning with his team leading by three or fewer runs.

Harvey found himself in that spot because Kyle Finnegan had blown the save Saturday night, giving up a game-tying homer and then walking in the winning run during his fourth appearance in five days. With Finnegan unavailable Sunday due to that heavy workload, manager Davey Martinez opted to give Harvey the opportunity to notch his first career save, should the situation arise.

For most of the afternoon, there was little reason to believe the Nationals would be in a position to close out a game. But as they did Saturday, they stormed back in dramatic fashion in the top of the ninth, with Joey Meneses’ three-run homer giving them the lead and leaving Harvey to warm up in a hurry in anticipation of entering for the bottom of the inning.

“Just a lot of adrenaline, kind of fired up,” the 28-year-old said. “I was just trying to stay under control as much as I could.”

This wasn’t a clean inning for Harvey. He got Dominic Fletcher to ground out to open the bottom of the ninth, but then walked Geraldo Perdomo on five pitches to bring the winning run to the plate.

Standing on the mound, Harvey couldn’t help but think what his father was thinking in that moment, watching at home in North Carolina.

“Oh yeah, first thing he’s going to say is probably the walk,” he said. “‘Can’t be walking guys,’ is what he’s going to tell me. I’m just looking forward to that.”

Harvey very nearly blew the save after that, surrendering a scorched line drive to Emmanuel Rivera that seemed destined to head down the left field line for a game-tying double. But third baseman Ildemaro Vargas managed to leap just high enough to make the catch for the critical second out.

Now Harvey was able to reach back and pour everything he had into his final showdown with Josh Rojas. After missing with a curveball for ball one, he got back ahead in the count 1-2 with a pair of splitters. And then he finished off the Arizona leadoff man with a 100 mph fastball at the letters, securing his first career save with a strikeout.

How did Harvey channel the extra adrenaline of the situation into his best pitch of the game?

“I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m still kind of on Cloud Nine,” he said. “Really just trying to get back to what I’ve been doing and not let the moment get too big. Just throw strikes. After I got the first guy out, I got a little more excited and walked Perdomo, which I didn’t want to do in that situation. But I just had to tone it back in and lock it back in.”

So it was that Hunter and Bryan Harvey finally became the ninth father-son combo in history to record a save in the major leagues.

The younger Harvey still has a long way to go to catch his father, an All-Star with both the Angels and Marlins in the early 1990s. But it’s probably safe to assume this one meant more to Bryan than any of the 177 he recorded during his career.

“I’m sure he was fired up,” Hunter Harvey said. “I know he’d like to be here, but I’m sure he was fired up.”

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