Steven Matz’s brilliance forged an important connection at Citi Field on Sunday
Sometimes, first impressions aren’t lasting impressions.
Such was the case with Steven Matz late Sunday afternoon, when he threw his first career big league pitch to the backstop, followed by a leadoff home run to Reds veteran infielder Brandon Phillips.
“I was telling myself to just take it easy and it still almost sailed to the backstop,” Matz said.
As it turns out, it was just a stutter step to what ultimately transpired into a special and dazzling debut for the 24-year-old left-handed pitcher who made his debut in front of a raucous hometown crowd.
Meet the Matz.
He allowed five hits and two runs with three walks and six strikeouts in six innings.
“I was just happy that first batter was out of the way to kind of get my feet under me,” Matz explained of the first sequence to Phillips. “I was really just trying to throw it right down the middle. Those first couple of pitches were pretty jittery.”
But his outing was more than just about his sparkling performance on the mound. He provided all the necessary offense with a 3-for-3, four RBI performance at the plate, starting with a go-ahead, two-run double in the second inning, and capped by a two-run, opposite field single in the sixth inning.
The four RBI from Matz are the most from a pitcher making a big league debut in big league history, and the most by any Met – either a pitcher or a position player – in franchise history.
“I love hitting, so it’s pretty cool to have that record,” Matz explained. “I don’t like to be an easy out up there as a pitcher.”
The Amazin’ Matz.
These big hits were amazing on a couple of fronts. Obviously, the fact they came from Matz – a 24-year-old pitcher making his big league debut – was exciting. But the Mets were also desperately searching for a big hit during their deep and dark team-wide slump, as they had gone 0-for-15 with 19 runners left on base in their 2-1, 13-inning win in game one on Sunday.
“We needed a big hit, I didn’t care where it came from,” Terry Collins explained after the game regarding Matz’s RBI hits. “That kind of lifted everybody in the dugout and got us on track a little bit.”
As for his pitching, he was outstanding. He was very fastball dependent, which like his colleagues in the rotation, he will have to make an adjustment at some point and mix it up early in the count. Otherwise, the opposition will begin to get very aggressive and start attacking his fastball early. He had a fantastic curveball which he had complete command of – the Reds didn’t reach base on any of the 27 curveballs he threw. His roughest inning was the first – the rest of his outing was more or less in cruise control outside of a solo home run he allowed to Todd Frazier in the fourth inning.
In other words, he was everything this organization has built him up to be, except they forgot to mention the force he could be at the plate.
He’s the fifth stud starting pitcher to graduate to the big leagues under Sandy Alderson and co.’s watch. But with all the buzz and fanfare that came with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard, this one was just different.
Sure, this one came at home, whereas three of the other four debuts came on the road. But considering Matz is a product of Ward Melville High School on Long Island, there seemed to be a different connection with him and the crowd in his first appearance at home.
Matz had about 200 friends and family in the crowd, a small percentage of the reported 29,640 in attendance on Sunday.
The fans were into every single pitch he threw, and every pitch he saw at the plate. They were cheering and yelling as he walked in from the bullpen, after each inning as he exited the field to the dugout, and every inning he took the field.
Of course, they gave him a raucous ovation when he recorded his two run scoring hits and as he left the field at the conclusion of his outing in the eighth inning.
But the Mets may have something here that goes beyond the talent and production on the field.
They have a connection with their audience and customer base, something they haven’t had since John Franco donned orange and blue. It’s a hometown adoration of a local kid who climbed to the top of the mountain when he was drafted in 2009 only to fall off a cliff after needing Tommy John Surgery a year later. He’s an inspirational case in that he suffered setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John Surgery, yet persevered and finally made it to the top of the mound for the team he cheered for as a youth, six years after being drafted.
That’s a hell of a story, and the fans have bought into this differently than that with Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Wheeler. At least for a day.
As such, the Mets would be wise to build on that connection that was forged on Sunday afternoon.