Dan Rattiner's Stories

Matz Redux: Steven Matz Returns to Fill Yastrzemski’s Shoes

The last baseball player from the East End who became a star was Carl Yastrzemski, who played for the Boston Red Sox from the early 1960s until the early 1980s. He won the Triple Crown 1967 and was the pride of Bridgehampton.

Others have played in the Major Leagues since then, and a few were thought to have star quality, but none panned out.

Then, in May of 2009, a famous high school baseball game was played in Patchogue. Two East End pitchers, both 17, faced each other for the first and only time. Both were considered Major League prospects, so attending the game—besides the usual of friends and family—were professional baseball scouts from all 32 Major League teams. Throughout the full seven innings—high school games are seven innings—the scouts stood behind the backstop with pads and pencils to take notes and with speed guns to clock the velocity of the pitches.

One pitcher was 5’ 8” Marcus Stroman, who was later signed by the Toronto Blue Jays and is there playing today. The other was 6’ 2” Steven Matz, born and raised in Stony Brook, who hoped to someday play for the New York Mets.

Both pitchers threw over 90 miles an hour and struck out lots of the batters. In the end Matz’s team won, 1 to 0. Today, Matz is playing for the Mets, and it appears he could follow in Carl Yazstremski’s footsteps.

In 2015, Matz pitched in six games and was the winning pitcher in four of them and received a no decision in the others. At the beginning of 2016, he won three of his firstfour decisions, had an ERA under 2.00. With an eventual record of 7–1 overall, heads were turning all over baseball. He was the real deal.

Then he hurt his pitching arm. He played anyway, did badly and finally, in the Spring of 2016, had to have shoulder surgery. A year went by. People wondered if he might never pitch again.

In late May this year, the baseball season a month old, Matz got the nod and started for the Mets against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched wonderfully. He pitched a full seven innings—the distance today’s starting pitchers are expected to go—gave up only one run and got the win. He’s started five times since then and has picked up right where he left off. He went seven innings against the hard-hitting Florida Marlins last Friday and nobody scored a run. Then last Monday night, I watched him pitch seven innings against probably the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals. He was up against their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, who was selected for the All-Star Game. It would be quite a challenge.

Matz is an absolute pleasure to watch. Strasburg went about his business stone-faced. He knew he was the best, and the best never show emotions. If the umpire called a strike a ball, so what? On we go. At 6’ 6” and 290 pounds, he began overpowering the Mets.

Matz, however, is 6’ 2”, slender and you can read every emotion. He is frightened, happy, worried, proud and it takes him a few innings to get his focus—which he did in the third inning. In the two prior innings, he’d gotten in trouble but worked his way out. Beginning in the third inning, his confidence settled in and he took command. He had been lucky not to get scored on in the first two innings. Now he was mowing Washington down, including their sluggers Zimmerman and Harper (both going to the All-Star Game). After seven innings he had fought Strasburg to a draw. Both left the game for relievers. Neither had given up a run.

Another thing that makes Matz so much fun to watch is how he does things. Manager Terry Collins said from the beginning that Matz, if coached carefully, has it all. His pitching windup is classic. His fastball is in the mid-90s. He has a good array of other pitches, with a great, arching, almost unhittable curveball, and when he gets into the zone he has extraordinary accuracy in catching the edge of the plate and an extraordinary thought process in trying to fool the batters with what he throws. Nobody knows what he is going to do, and nobody can hit him.

Watch him go after the All-Star break.

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