Not since Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Bridgehampton potato farmer, has the eastern end of Long Island raised a baseball player who was inducted into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.
Last year, however, Steven Matz, a stunningly good pitcher born and raised in Stony Brook, made his debut for the New York Mets in midseason. In the last half of the season Steven Matz failed to lose a single game. He also pitched in the World Series for the sellout crowd at Citi Field and held his own against the Kansas City Chiefs veteran Chris Young, although the Mets lost after Matz left.
It was therefore with great anticipation that Matz, who—because he had not had a full season—is still considered a rookie, was happily put in the Met’s pitching rotation.
He started in his first game of 2016 against the Florida Marlins on Monday, April 11 at Citi Field. The place was packed.
Things went well for Matz in the top of the first. He got Dee Gordon to pop out. Marcell Ozuna then grounded out. Christian Yelich got an infield single with a bouncer to third. And then Giancarlo Stanton struck out swinging, a nice end for the 24-year-old pitching sensation.
The Mets failed to score in their half of the first, and then Matz came out to the mound to try to put the Marlins down in the top of the second.
Things did not go well this time.
Matz walked Martin Prado, then walked Chris Johnson, moving Prado to second. The next batter, J.T. Realmuto, singled to center, and now the bases were loaded with nobody out.
Did it bother Matz? Well, the Marlin’s eighth batter in the lineup, Adeiny Hechavarria, who isn’t much of a hitter, singled to shallow left, driving in Johnson and Prado, with Realmuto winding up on third as the Mets failed to get either of the other two out at home.
Two runs in, runners on first and third, still nobody out. Settle down, Steve.
Jarred Cosart, the opposing pitcher, came to the plate and hit a bouncer to short. Cosart was out at first, but Hechava moved to second. And the Mets held Realmuto at third.
One out, runners at second and third. A pivotal at-bat now. Gordon, the leadoff hitter. He beat out an infield grounder, scoring Realmuto and moving Hechava to third. Three runs in, runners on first and third.
At this point, Ozuna fouled out and it looked like Matz might make it through with a bad inning of three runs. There were two outs and runners on first and third.
Unfortunately, that’s when the roof fell in. Yelich singled, scoring both Hechava and Gordon. And then, as Mets manager Terry Collins was preparing to pull Matz and call it a bad day, Stanton came to the plate and hit a towering 417-foot home run to clear the bases.
With that, the manager trotted out to the mound and sent Matz to the showers. It was one of the worst rookie pitching performances in baseball history. Seven runs scored. Just one and two thirds innings completed.
Last year, Matz had an earned run average of 2.27. This was an achievement that put Matz right up there with the league leaders. But after Monday’s performance, Matz’s earned run average was 37.72, the worst in either league.
Well, mighty Casey sometimes struck out. And the Babe, while clobbering home runs, also held the team record for most strikeouts. And even Carl Yastrzemski, when he got up to hit against the Yankees in a winner-take-all at-bat for the American League pennant in 1978, ended it not with a bang but a whimper. He popped out foul to third base.
One cannot turn back the hands of time. But one game is just one game, and 155 more await.
* * *
Well, here it is six days later and Steven Matz got handed the ball in Cleveland for his second start of the year. He pitched sensationally. He completed six scoreless innings, got the win, set a personal record of nine strikeouts and only allowed three scattered hits.
For the Mets, the drive to the pennant now begins.