Steven Matz made a courageous effort in Game 4, but made one regrettable pitch
Game four of the Division Series certainly had it’s share of intrigue.
The Mets were one win away from hosting the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, which begins Saturday. The Dodgers, facing elimination with their high-salaried payroll, had the best pitcher in the world pitching in Clayton Kershaw.
That’s enough intrigue to create numerous storylines.
But there was one bit of intrigue which flew under the radar in comparison to the high stakes of this game four, and that was Steven Matz making his first start since pitching against the Reds nearly three weeks ago at Great American Ballpark.
He failed to make two attempts at a start against the Phillies thanks to sleeping awkwardly and waking up with a sore back in the first game of their series against the Phillies two weeks ago. He was scratched, then scratched again and he was doubtful to even be on the postseason roster until he came through fine in a simulated game at the team’s minor league complex in Port St. Lucie last Thursday.
Terry Collins then scheduled Matz tentatively to start game four of the Division Series, leaving the door open for Jacob deGrom to start on short rest against Clayton Kershaw, who also was to throw on short rest in game four.
But after the Mets won on Monday night to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five Division Series, Terry Collins kept his ace card in hand and decided for sure it would be Matz pitching on normal rest against Kershaw with a chance to clinch the Division Series in front of the home crowd.
Things got off to a flying start for Matz in game four, allowing just a one-out walk to Corey Seager in two hitless innings to open the game.
But he got in trouble in the third inning. A lot of trouble.
After striking out Justin Ruggiano to start the frame. He allowed a single to Kershaw. Then after inducing a source out from Enrique Hernandez, he allowed two conesuecitve singles to Howie Kendrick and Adrian Gonzalez to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
But it was the hit he allowed to Kershaw which began the Dodger attack, and something he wishes he could do over again.
“The one pitch I know he wants back is the pitch to Kershaw,” Collins explained. “Got a changeup in the strike zone to Justin. But the pitch that Gonzalez hit, he’s a great hitter, and especially with guys in scoring position, he’s a tremendous hitter.”
Still, he was just an out away from limiting the damage to a run, and keeping this game within reach against Kershaw, who was simply lights out.
But he hung a 2-0 curveball to former Met Justin Turner who laced it into the left field corner for his fourth double in as many games, plating two runs and quieting the crowd as the Dodgers extended the lead to 3-0.
All of the damage against Matz was with two outs.
“He just fell behind a couple of hitters,” Travis d’Arnaud said. “Howie [Kendrick] muscled a ball through the infield. Adrian [Gonzalez] got another hit, jammed him a little bit but it found a hole, and Turner has been red hot.
“It was just one of those situations where you’ve got to tip the cap and be ready for the next pitch and the next inning,” the catcher explained.
Matz struggled with the command of his fastball and curveball from the third inning on. As d’Arnaud said, that caused him to fall behind those hitters in particular, and one could even argue the pitch selection against Turner – a 2-0 breaking ball which he was struggling to command – was not an ideal pitch to throw in that situation with two outs.
He got burned, and the Mets could not overcome that inning.
But Matz should indeed be commended for his effort. He showed a lot of guts and heart out there, especially against Kershaw. The hit to Turner was really the only hard hit ball of the night against him. And he only allowed three more baserunners the entire night, one of which was an intentional walk to Turner.
But it all circled back to the sequence to Kershaw, in which he failed to retire the man who spent 2 1/2 hours quietly retiring the Mets on the mound they were sharing.
“When you face a guy like Clayton Kershaw, you want to put up zeros and I wasn’t able to do that today.”
No he didn’t, but in fairness, unless he and the rest of the pitching staff could have thrown a shutout, they were not beating Kershaw in game four.
In other words, Kershaw did Kershaw things in a must-win for Los Angeles, and he delivered in a big way for his franchise with a gutsy and dominant effort of his own.
Collins was really pleased with Matz’s effort despite the loss.
“He was outstanding, outstanding. We got all the confidence in the world that if we get to the next round, he’s going to be a part of that rotation,” the manager said.
If there’s one thing Matz and really all of the Mets starters have shown in this series is they have what it takes mentally to deal with the pressure cooker of the playoffs and the playoffs in New York at that. All four of them have shown absolutely no fear, despite three of them (Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey) pitching without their best stuff.
That’s an intangible that can’t be measured. It’s above talent and above statistics. It’s simply a part of who they are.
And Matz may be the greatest example of it all.
Matz became the fourth rookie pitcher in Mets history to start a postseason game. He made this start having made just six regular season starts for the Mets, which are the fewest in Mets history entering a postseason debut, and the fewest since Matt Moore of the Rays when he had made just three regular season appearances entering his playoff debut.
And here was Matz, the Long Island kid playing in front of the home crowd, persevering and battling to find a way to get the team he grew up rooting for back into the National League Championship Series.
It didn’t work out, thanks in large measure to Kershaw. But if the Mets advance to the next round and further, Collins and the Mets clearly have every reason to believe in Matz.