Yesterday afternoon in Queens, New York, starting pitcher Steve Matz, making his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds, watched as the first batter he ever faced, Brandon Phillips, smacked a lead-off homer over the left-field wall.
The home crowd of 29,635 could never have guessed what would happen next.
Matz, apparently, had the Reds right where he wanted them.
The Long Island lefty, who grew up a Mets fan, quickly recovered his composure and shut down the Reds the rest of the way (other than a Todd Frazier solo homer in the 4th) on two runs and five hits through seven and two-thirds innings pitched. Matz fanned six while walking three. Of his 110 pitches, he threw 72 for strikes.
That manager Terry Collins let Matz go out and start the eighth inning after Matz had already thrown 90+ pitches through seven innings had as much to do with the Mets tired bullpen as it did Matz fine performance.
Or maybe it was Matz’s bat that Collins did not want removed from the game.
Matz became the first pitcher in the past hundred years to produce three hits and four runs batted in during his Major League debut. His double in the second inning over the outstretched glove of Billy Hamilton plated the Mets first two runs of the game. Matz also singled in the fifth inning, then lashed another single to center in the sixth-inning, driving in yet two more runs.
Neither Matz hitting nor his pitching performances in this game can easily be written off as flukes. Before his call-up, Matz was batting .304 in Triple-A Las Vegas, and his earned run average through 14 starts this year was 2.19 with 94 strikeouts in 90 innings. Said Vegas manager Wally Backman, “Matz is just bored down here.”
Just a few years ago, however, yesterday’s amazing performance was not an event that anyone would have readily predicted. In 2010, Matz underwent what these days seems to be the inevitable Tommy John surgery. It took him nearly two years to fully recover. While many pitchers tend to recover and return to full health, surgery on a young arm is surgery, and no two cases will ever turn out exactly the same way.
So it was with great joy yesterday, for his family and friends in attendance as well as for Mets fan everywhere, that all of Matz’s hard work over the past few years has paid off with such unexpected dividends.
The Mets, who now enjoy one of baseball’s finest young rotations (if not the best) of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and now Steve Matz (as well as veteran lefty Jon Niese and Jabba the Bartolo Colon), along with the currently recovering from T.J. surgery, Zack Wheeler, have Mets fans everywhere giddy over what the future may hold for New York’s senior circuit franchise.
While it is obvious that the Mets need to go out and get a bat, in the meantime no one could blame manager Terry Collins if he is tempted to use Steve Matz as a pinch-hitter.
That the 40-37 Mets (who have now won four home games in a row after enduring a terrible road seven-game losing streak) are still in the playoff hunt nearly halfway through the season is a testament primarily to their fine pitching.
Historically, this has nearly always been the case with the Mets when times are good. Steve Matz and his mates in the rotation could take this team further than anyone, including this writer, would have predicted at the beginning of this season. This might not be ’69 or ’73 all over again, but God knows it’s not 1963, 1981 or 2014, either.
That Matz was born and raised less than fifty miles from, and shares a birthday with this writer only makes me want to root that much more for this 24-year old phenom.
The only question is, what could he possibly do for an encore?