KANSAS CITY -- On the eve of Matt Harvey's start in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. ET game time), one of his college teammates recalled the brash freshman who arrived on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2007. Harvey had just turned down $1 million after the Angels made him a third-round Draft pick, opting instead to boost his stock with a Tar Heels team coming off back-to-back appearances in the championship round of the College World Series.
"We knew he could help us, but he hadn't been there those previous two years, and he might not have taken it as seriously as we were during those fall practices," said Rob Wooten, an ace reliever for those teams who made it to the big leagues himself, with the Brewers. "I think he thought he was going to come in and breeze right through college. It didn't work that way at the beginning. I think he got humbled pretty quick. But he put his head down and he got to work.
It will be a well-rested, unrestricted Harvey who takes the Kauffman Stadium mound, the fascination with Harvey's workload having been stifled after serving as a source of controversy in August and September.
The fact remains that Harvey, who missed all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, continues to push into uncharted innings. In August, Harvey's agent, Scott Boras, made the case for a hard cap around 180 innings, while the Mets insisted they would proceed on a start-to-start basis. Now, with the Mets on the brink of their first championship since 1986, the sides appear united.
Including his two postseason starts (2-0, 2.84 ERA), Harvey has logged 202 innings since the start of the regular season.
"We kind of cleared that up at the end," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It goes back to after the Yankee game [on Sept. 20, when Collins removed Harvey after 77 pitches and five scoreless innings].
"Couple days later he walked in and said, 'Listen, we're going to get in the postseason and I've got to be ready, and I'm not ready.' He said, 'My next two starts I've got to throw at least a hundred pitches to get myself back where I need to be.'"
Collins conferred with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who said it was Harvey's call.
"It's pretty much been Matt and me ever since," Collins said. "I don't think we've needed to go elsewhere. As long as I know he's ready to go."
Harvey indicated he's ready to go.
"I think there were some people that threw me under the bus a little bit about what was going on," Harvey said. "But for me being out here with my teammates is all I want, and I couldn't be happier to be with them here now."
In Game 1 of the National League Championship Series he delivered a vintage performance, holding the Cubs to two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings, with nine strikeouts. It marked the first time Harvey threw a pitch beyond the seventh inning since Aug. 11.
That outing did come at a price. Harvey took a liner directly on his right arm off the bat of Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, and there was more swelling than expected in his triceps two days later. But he improved to the point that he was slated to start Game 5 of the NLCS had the Mets not completed their four-game sweep.
Harvey will pitch Tuesday on nine days' rest.
"I think the best thing and the most positive thing is how I feel after the 200-inning mark, and quite honestly, it's probably better than I did at the 100 mark," he said.
Said Collins: "I think in conversations with David [Wright] and some of the other veterans, he realized that the only way he's going to be that person he wants to be is to be out in the middle of that field. So he took the baseball back. He said, 'Give me the ball.'
"So I salute that. Certainly we all realize any time you're out on the baseball field something freaky could happen and your career could come to an end, but it's about the competition side and being out there with your teammates, and he wants to do that. I'm not shocked by it. And I'm thrilled that he said, 'Give me the baseball,' because he's going to get it."
His old Tar Heels teammate will be watching. Harvey and Wooten remain in touch, though the last time they had an extended conversation in person was last December in Orlando during Major League Baseball Players Association meetings. Wooten said Harvey expressed supreme confidence in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, and was bullish about the Mets' young starting pitching.
"He told me they were going to win there," Wooten said. "And sure enough, there they are in the World Series."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.