New York Mets ace Matt Harvey is used to getting approached by fans at ballparks. Posting a 4-0 record and miniscule 1.44 earned-run average this season will earn any major-league pitcher that kind of attention.
But when a group of fans recently greeted the 24-year-old before a game in St. Louis, the topic of discussion wasn't baseball. It was hockey, specifically the New York Rangers.
"I was running around for batting practice and people asked me about the Rangers," Harvey told NHL.com. "It would be nice for them to ask me about pitching and baseball. But while the Rangers are doing their thing, it's not a bad question for people to ask."
With the Rangers set to begin their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, Harvey has become one of the most high-profile additions to the bandwagon. Growing up, Harvey occasionally played hockey with his cousin in Vermont, but his allegiance to the Rangers mostly developed after the Connecticut native recently befriended Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Boyle, who played hockey at Boston College with a longtime friend of Harvey's.
"Becoming friends with those guys definitely escalated my fandom of watching the Rangers," Harvey said. "Before spring training started, I went to four or five games. They seemed to pull out wins every time I was there, so I kept cheering."
Harvey attended New York's 4-3 win in Game 3 of its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals. The victory improved the Rangers' record to 6-0 in games that Harvey has attended. Before long, area fans began to murmur that he might be a lucky charm.
That talk escalated the day after Game 3, when the head of Mets public relations, Jay Horwitz, wrote on Twitter that the team would be giving Harvey a day off so he could attend Game 4 of the series at Madison Square Garden. After throwing nine innings of one-hit ball against the Chicago White Sox on May 7, Harvey probably earned the day off. But Horwitz's joke appeared to be lost on a number of people who suspected that Harvey's devotion might have gone a bit too far.
"That was a rough morning. When that tweet came out, people were calling me saying, 'What's going on here?' I had no idea what was going on. I had just woken up," Harvey said. "I said, 'You know what? If I know Jay, he's completely kidding.'"
Hours before Game 6 between the Rangers and Capitals, with the forecast calling for rain and Harvey scheduled to start at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, there was word he might make his way to MSG if the baseball game was rained out. The 6-foot, 4-inch right-hander would make the start that day, and the Rangers would defeat the Capitals 1-0 to force Game 7, which they won 5-0 on Monday.
"Nobody wants their game to get cancelled," Harvey said. "I threw it out there. There was a bunch of rain in the forecast. If it just so happened to get rained out, I was going to try to shoot over there."
Harvey wasn't able to make Game 4 or 6. But with the Mets scheduled for a day off May 23, the Sports Illustrated cover subject already has his tickets for Game 4 against the Bruins.
"[The Rangers] are obviously locked in. I understand how that goes. This is their time to play and perform and be in the spotlight," Harvey said. "After every win, I'm shooting both [Lundqvist and Boyle] text messages and saying 'Congratulations.' They're doing the same after they see a good outing from me. It's been a lot of fun. We'll be there cheering them on."