Hunter Harvey had taken the mound 55 times in a big league game, and aside from perhaps the first time three years ago, he did so feeling like he was completely in control of the situation. Until the Nationals right-hander found himself jogging in from the bullpen during the fourth inning Tuesday night, tasked with pitching out of a jam created by starter Cory Abbott, against the Orioles team that drafted him in 2013 and gave him his first big league appearance in 2019.
“That was like debut adrenaline,” he said afterward. “It don’t come around very often.”
And he didn’t mean it in a positive way.
By the time he departed one inning later, Harvey had suffered through perhaps the worst of his 30 appearances with the Nats this season, giving up both the tying and go-ahead runs in what would end up a 4-3 loss. Making matters worse, the tying run came via the first home run he’s surrendered this year, and it just so happened to come off the bat of one of his best friends: Ryan Mountcastle.
After escaping the fourth-inning jam with one inherited runner scoring but his team’s lead intact, Harvey prepared to return for the fifth. He knew Mountcastle would be leading off, and both guys knew they were about to square off for the first time in an actual game after years of imagining just such a scenario.
“We’ve been back and forth since we met,” Harvey said. “I think I got him out in minor league camp one time. He hit a single that went through the legs of the outfielder and he got a triple. He’s been talking crap about that since. That was 2015. And we’ve been together on the same team for the last 4-5 years. We always talked about what if we got to face off? And we did. He might’ve won tonight, but it’ll be the last time.”
Mountcastle won by driving a 99-mph fastball left over the plate to right-center. He immediately looked at Harvey as he began his home run trot and smiled. Harvey couldn’t help but reciprocate.
“I got him, man, and it’s probably one of my favorite home runs I ever hit,” Mountcastle told reporters in the visitors’ clubhouse. “I think when I hit it, I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, and he had a little smile on his face, even after he gave it up. It was a cool moment.”
“Yeah, I started laughing,” Harvey said. “That’s the first time I ever laughed giving up a home run. It was hard to hide that emotion, just ’cause we’re so close. We’ve talked so much trash, so when that happened, he looked at me and he was laughing. I knew my phone was going to get blown up. I knew he was going to wear me out. This is the worst-case scenario right now.”
Good-natured jokes aside, Harvey did admit he was too amped up for this appearance. He didn’t necessarily know that would happen until he was already on the mound facing the team that drafted and developed him, the one that finally gave up after years of injuries prevented him from realizing the potential that made him a first round pick.
The Nationals, who claimed Harvey off waivers from the Giants in spring training, have liked just about everything they’ve seen from him this season. He did have to make an extended stint on the injured list with a pronator strain in his right forearm, but the 27-year-old return earlier this summer and has been arguably their most consistently effective reliever, entering Tuesday’s game with a 2.79 ERA and 1.103 WHIP.
That made Tuesday’s events particularly surprising, both for the actual results and the unusual way it made Harvey (the son of former Angels and Marlins closer Bryan Harvey) feel.
“It’s my worst outing of the year, I feel like, and I’m not as mad at myself tonight as I probably should be,” he said. “I’m sure my dad will have other words for that. I want to get back out there. I want to do it again.”
Harvey insists he’ll have his emotions in better control next time. Though if he gets another chance to face Mountcastle, he might try something completely different.
“I’ve also been telling him I was going to hit him,” the right-hander joked. “I probably should’ve just done that.”