Every few years, we have a local boy who rises up through the minor leagues of professional baseball to take his place in the lineup of a big-league team.
Years ago, Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Bridgehampton potato farmer, did that and become a star for the Boston Red Sox for more than two decades. He’s in the Hall of Fame. One year he was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the American League, achieving the rarely accomplished Triple Crown, which is leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. There are still a few locals who remember him playing hardball on the Lions Club Diamond next to the Bridgehampton firehouse, hitting the ball way, way, way over the fence.
None of our East Enders has achieved that kind of success since, but we live in hope.
The most recent talent is Steven Matz of Stony Brook, who pitches today for the New York Mets. He’s a craftsman who tries to out-think his batters. Sometimes he does it very well and sometimes not. He’s got a beautiful looping slider and a great curveball. He’s in the rotation.
Last Monday was his third outing of the year. Going into the game, he was one of the top 10 in the league in pitching, having a very low and excellent ERA (Earned Run Average). In this third outing, he made baseball history.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Tiger Woods had won the Masters and was being celebrated around the world for his achievement. So I think people didn’t notice what Matz did the next day. It wasn’t pretty. It’s nothing to be proud of. I don’t know if it’s ever been done before. And I think it will stand as a record for a long, long time. It happened in the first inning.
Matz strode out to the mound to pitch and threw a few warmups. He looked around Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the opponent that day. He then settled in to face his first batter, outfielder Andrew McCutchen. He threw a 92 mile-an-hour sinker for a strike. He threw another 92 mile-an-hour sinker for strike two. Two pitches later, Matz threw McCutchen a curve that he hit—a grounder to the shortstop, an easy play—but Mets shortstop Amed Rosario let it go through his legs into the outfield. Runner on first, nobody out. Error charged to Rosario.
It’s possible this single muff threw Matz a little off his concentration, but we will never know. What we do know is that the second batter was second baseman Jean Segura, who doubled to deep right. Segura on second, McCutchen on third.
The third batter was Bryce Harper, the Phillies star. Matz got the count to two balls and a strike, and then threw a 93 mile-an-hour sinker that hit Harper, sending him hobbling off to first. Bases loaded. Nobody out.
The clean-up batter that day was catcher J.T. Realmuto. Matz threw two strikes to him, then a ball and then a curve that Realmuto doubled to deep center. McCutchen scored, Segura scored, Harper wound up at third and Realmuto on second: 2-0 Phillies.
The next batter, Scott Kingery, swung at the first pitch and hit it into the stands in left field, clearing the bases. It was now 5–0 Phillies. Nobody on.
Matz pitched next to Cesar Hernandez, got to a full count and then lost him on a changeup, ball four.
The next play must have really unnerved Matz. Outfielder Aaron Altherr hit a 2-2 pitch on the ground to Rosario, who now had a fielder’s choice. He could throw to second, looking for a double play, or he could throw to first base to get the hitter. He threw badly to first base, where Dominic Smith, the Mets first baseman, could only make the catch by taking his foot off the bag. Altherr safe at first. Immediately, Rosario moved over to cover second base and the Mets first baseman threw a perfect strike to second to get Hernandez, but Rosario dropped it. There were now runners on second and third. Score still 5–0. Two more errors charged to the Mets shortstop.
The next batter would be infielder Maikel Franco, the eighth batter of the inning. Only the pitcher’s slot would remain for a full lineup of batsmen. Matz threw two balls to Franco, both sinkers, and on the next pitch Franco hit a towering homer to center field, scoring Hernandez and Altherr and himself. Score is now 8–0.
And with that, the Mets manager decided he had seen enough of Matz and pulled him. The new pitcher, Drew Gagnon, struck out Nick Pivetta swinging while Matz watched from the dugout. One out.
All in all, a bad day. Steven Matz faced eight batters in the first inning. He got none of them out, and all eight batters scored. That, I believe, is a record.
UPDATE: Since the above was written, Matz pitched Sunday afternoon for the fourth time. He won the game, pitched it for the full 9 innings and was throwing fastball strikes at 96 mph during that last inning. An excellent outing, letting up just two runs and five hits. If you eliminate that one disastrous, historic inning, he probably leads the league with his earned run average.