Steven Matz’s quietly great World Series start will serve as a precursor for what’s to come
It’s a shame the Mets went down the way they did on Saturday night, because there would have been so many positive things to discuss about Game 4, rather than wondering what might have been if not for another late-inning crumble.
Take Steven Matz as one example of that.
The kid from Long Island has been asked to grow up and be a big league star with ten regular season starts under his belt and stamina which limits his ability to pitch deep into games.
All under the lights of the playoffs and World Series.
On Saturday night, Matz – in front of a record setting Citi Field crowd of 44,815 screaming fans – delivered a courageous and often dominant performance for the team he grew up rooting for.
And not too long ago at that.
For the first four innings on Saturday, Matz served as the buzz saw the Mets needed on the mound, dazzling the Royals with hard fastballs down and on the inside corner, and a hard breaking ball which left the Royals completely befuddled at the plate.
He also was able to tease the Royals with a change-up that just fell off the table to both left-handed and right-handed hitters.
He ran into trouble in the fifth inning when he started getting under his curveball and change-up, causing them to float over the middle of the plate and making them much more visible to the Royals hitters. They tagged him for a run in the fifth as a result, at which point it seemed logical to expect Terry Collins to go to his bullpen.
Instead, Collins placed a ton of faith in his young and inexperienced left-hander for the sixth inning, thanks in part to Michael Conforto’s second home run of the night in the previous half inning.
“After the home run I thought I’d let him hit,” Collins said of Matz. “I thought he was still throwing the ball okay. Let him start the inning and see if he can get us through the sixth inning, so we can save the pen. That was one of the other things, we had a situation where we certainly used two guys in the sixth inning, three guys to get out of that inning.
“Without the home run we might have hit in that inning, yes. But when we hit the home run, I was going to let him go back out,” Collins concluded.
Matz never thought for an instant he would come out of the game after the fifth inning.
“My mindset is always to go back out there,” Matz said.
But Matz was disappointed in himself that he could not hold the Royals down in the sixth inning. The Royals went right at him thanks to a leadoff double from Ben Zobrist and an RBI single from Lorenzo Cain to pull the Royals back to within a run at 3-2.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t put up a zero after that,” Matz said about the sixth inning.
He was lifted following Cain’s single, and both Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon did splendid work to limit the damage and preserve the Mets slim lead thanks to a line out from Eric Hosmer, a weak ground out from Mike Moustakas, and a strikeout from Salvador Perez.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Mets bullpen could not preserve the lead for Matz, who did a whole lot of growing up in his last start of the season.
But despite his effort, Matz isn’t happy with the end result.
“It’s tough,” Matz said. “Nobody wants to lose.”
He showed a ton of maturity in this start. He clearly did his homework the night before when Noah Syndergaard shut down the Royals in Game 3, and saw that they were especially vulnerable on anything inside. For the most part, Matz stayed inside and was able to catch the Royals looking on back-to-back strikeouts to open the fourth inning.
And he did an outstanding job not only using all of his pitches, but also in avoiding creating any sort of pattern. He pitched backwards the second time through the order, and it was an effective strategy thanks to the pinpoint control of both his change-up and curveball.
Of the 41 change-ups and curveballs he threw, Matz only allowed two hits off those pitches.
For someone who lacks any kind of meaningful experience, he sure looked poised and mature pitching in the biggest game of his life under baseball’s brightest spotlight.
He was not intimidated and not threatened by the Royals.
He was the exact opposite, as it turns out.
His main problem right now is he simply lacks the gas to pitch deep into a game. That’s mainly a product of not pitching very much since the end of June thanks to a torn lat muscle and a balky back which limited him to only four regular season starts after July 5.
But clearly, the Mets have another gem for their rotation in Matz. He has already shown an advanced ability in his time here, and this experience in the postseason – which is unusual in and of itself for a pitcher of Matz’s experience level – can only help him as he looks ahead to the 2016 season.
Now he just needs to stay healthy, and on a pitcher’s mound for an entire season.