Since the days of Carl Yastrzemski, the eastern end of Long Island has not had a true baseball star. Yastrzemski was the son of a Bridgehampton potato farmer, went to the Bridgehampton School, became a player for the Boston Red Sox, won the triple crown (highest batting average, most home runs, most runs batted in during the same year) in 1967 and is in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.
But now there is Steven Matz. He’s a young man who grew up in Stony Brook as the son of a service manager at an automobile dealership and a Comsewogue High School administrator, went to Ward Melville High School, got drafted to play for the New York Mets as a starting pitcher and has been a major leaguer for just 110 days.
I’ve paid attention to his career because I watched him pitch a game in early September on TV. He’d won four and lost none, quite remarkable for a rookie, has an earned run average 2.27 which is very, very good and might, I thought, have a shot at what Yastrzemski did. Indeed, as a senior in high school at Ward Melville, he was voted by the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association as the winner of the Carl Yastrzemski Award for the best player in Suffolk. However, having been in the majors just three months, and on the disabled list for two of those months with a minor injury, it’s all wait and see. He throws a 93-mile-an-hour fastball, major league level speed, but then many pitchers throw that fast. The real issue is control.
About a month ago, for the first time in years, I went to see a Mets game. My son had moved to Brooklyn. He accompanied me to Citi Field in Queens. I had hoped to see Matz play but he did not. On the other hand, the Mets looked very good. When the New York Mets clinched the Eastern Division title, I got really interested in this situation. They would be playing Los Angeles in the National League Division Series. I learned that Matz might not be on the roster. There was some complicated situation that, because he had not played enough, he might be excluded. I never did find out whether he was or wasn’t.
As it happened, I got tickets to go see one of those playoff games. That game is tonight. I am writing this at 1 p.m. Should the Mets win, they are off to the National League Championship Series. I mentioned to my wife, who is going with me, that we probably won’t see Matz.
The reason, besides the fact that he might not even be on the roster, is that this is a very crucial game, both for the Mets, who move on if they win, but also for Los Angeles. They are gone if they lose tonight. And so, this morning, they announced they are going to have their triple Cy Young Award winning pitcher (best pitcher in the National League three times) out there to try to save the day. That is Clayton Kershaw.
Who would the Mets put up against him? They have five or six very fine pitchers, but none the caliber of Kershaw. But then there was this: Two games ago, a Los Angeles player running from first to second barreled into the Mets shortstop very aggressively and broke his leg.
The next morning, after the game was over, which the Mets were winning before this and lost after it—the umpire called the man who hit the shortstop safe—the Commissioner of Baseball suspended the Los Angeles player for two games. As a result, on Monday night at Citi Field, last night, the Mets slaughtered Los Angeles with 13 runs in what certainly appeared to be a very legal kind of retribution. The Mets are now ahead two games to one. First one to get to three wins. So tonight might be the night.
At the press conference this morning where the starting pitchers were named, the coach of the Mets said he had hoped that Los Angeles would not name Kershaw, their 6’6” monster—as he referred to Kershaw—to start. He had pitched just three days ago and was not rested up enough. But, well, Los Angeles did.
Then the Mets coach announced the Mets pitcher who would face Kershaw. It’s to be Stony Brook’s Steven Matz, graduate of Ward Melville High School, who in fact has played in only six major league games in his life.
To me, the psychology of this is terrific. The Mets might arguably be let down tonight emotionally. They punished Los Angeles the night before. If they lose they still have a final chance to win and get to the National League Championship Series. (Los Angeles will have that chance to win too.) Now they will most certainly rally to a rookie named Matz with four wins and no losses.
My wife says he will be scared to death.
I spoke to Matz’s former High School coach Lou Petrucci, who today teaches athletics at a grammar school near Stony Brook. Petrucci told me Matz was special, but nobody figured he’d be in the major leagues. As a sophomore, Petrucci said, Matz was a 5’9” and 140-pound first baseman. As a senior, he had grown to 6’2” and 205 pounds and he’d been transformed into a pitcher with a “lot of heat.” He struck out many of the kids at other schools. “He was destined for bigger things,” the coach said.
“We’ll be up in the top tier, third baseline,” I told him, letting him know we would be watching, but from up in the cheap seats ($310 for the two).
“I’m right down by the field, front row,” Petrucci said.
There is a video you can watch of Bert Moller, a fan of the Mets who happened to be in the stands on the night of Matz’s first game. Moller is Matz’s grandpa. Matz, the pitcher, gets a hit, Moller goes wild. Watch it below.
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) June 28, 2015
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I write this the next day. The Monster Won, Los Angeles won, and Steven Matz won.
Matz, before a packed Citi Field filled with 45,200 screaming fans (including us), set Los Angeles down one, two, three in the first inning. The Monster, Kershaw, did too, although he struggled a bit, taking twice as many pitches to do it.
In the third inning, Matz still had been throwing hard, had shown an amazing curveball, and still had not allowed a hit. But then up came the monster Kershaw to hit. Pitchers are poor hitters, and usually strike out. Matz threw him his famous curve, and Kershaw hit it out into left field for a single. After that, Matz seemed to lose confidence temporarily. Before the inning ended, Los Angeles had scored 3 runs.
All six infielders crowded around Steven Matz in the beginning of the fourth inning when manager Terry Collins came out to talk to him, and they brought new energy to the rookie. He went two more innings and gave up no more runs.
On the other hand, Kershaw, excited by his ice-breaking and totally unexpected single, continued on with an increasingly un-hittable spectacular performance. He gave up only three hits, and went out for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth. Kershaw was so good that all of us in the stands were reduced to standing up waving our red towels and screaming only after a Met hitter got Kershaw to throw ball three. But nothing helped. Final score, Los Angeles 3, New York Mets 1.
The next morning, Mets Manager Terry Collins told the media that Steven Matz had earned a place in the pitching rotation in the rest of the post-season if the Mets could beat Los Angeles in Game 5, which the Mets did. Now, as we go to press, the Mets are up two games to zero against the Cubs. Two more and they are off to the World Series.
The Mets won the third game last night. They could sweep the Cubs and go into the World Series if they win tonight (Wednesday, October 21). Matz is the starting pitcher.
Watch our rookie.