Local Boys: Two Long Island Players Now in Mets Pitching Rotation

Steven Matz pitching
Steven Matz pitching, Courtesy New York Mets

Ever since Bridgehampton-born Carl Yastrzemski became a baseball star, won the Triple Crown and entered the Hall of Fame in the 1960s, we here in the Hamptons have been hoping to raise another high school star who could follow in his footsteps. It’s been a long half-century, though. There was no one we could cheer from Riverhead, Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Southampton or East Hampton High School who could do that.

But now this year, Carl’s grandson Mike Yastrzemski has appeared on the scene. He began playing in the majors as the left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, and against Baltimore on May 31 came to bat and hit a double his first time up, walked his second time up, and then his third time up hit a home run. He remains in left field today, and so far, in just two months, has hit 10 home runs, has a remarkable 34 runs batted in and is hitting a respectable .272. And he is only a rookie. What a start!

Meanwhile, a remarkable thing happened in baseball two weeks ago when two other players, both pitchers from the eastern end of Long Island who played against each other in high school, pitched back-to-back games for the New York Mets.

One is Steven Matz, who has been a starting pitcher for the Mets for the past three years. He’s not one of the star pitchers, but he’s had some good games. Three weeks ago, he pitched a full nine-inning game, letting up only one run against Miami. Earlier this year, he started a game and never got through the first inning. He pitched to eight batters, failed to get any of them out, watched as all of them scored, and finally his manager walked out to the mound and sent him to the showers.

In 2009, a famous high school baseball game was played in these parts, and all 32 baseball teams sent scouts with video cameras to evaluate two prospects, the opposing pitchers. The game was played in Patchogue, and a huge crowd and members of the media watched—not only the boys pitching, but also the scouts who were busy filming and writing on pads about what they saw.

One pitcher was the aforementioned Steven Matz, age sixteen, on the mound for Ward Melville High School. The other was Marcus Stroman, pitching for Patchogue-Medford High School. Both Matz and Stroman had big strikeout numbers, both were considered Major League prospects, and who won the game didn’t matter. Both simply struck out batter after batter. In the end Ward Melville won 1-0.

While Matz signed up and played for the New York Mets for the last four years, Stroman signed up and played for the Toronto Blue Jays for a similar amount of time. Now, Stroman has been traded from the Blue Jays to the Mets.

The press asked Stroman what he thought about this, and he said he was very excited to be back on Long Island, particularly because he would be near his family and would be pitching on the same team as his high school foe Matz.

As I said, the Mets started Matz and Stroman one after the other on consecutive days two weeks ago. Matz has pitched wonderfully since the All Star break, which included a five-hit shutout just a week before. Now here was Stroman, in the dugout watching Matz pitch his first three innings without a run. Then came the fourth inning, where Matz fell apart. Four runs had crossed home plate before he could even get one out, and manager Mickey Callaway walked out to the mound and sent him to the showers as a result.

Stroman pitched on Thursday evening, with Matz watching. It was the first time I’d seen him pitch—we don’t generally get Toronto games on television in these parts—and I saw that he was about 5 foot 6, very short for a right-handed pitcher.

Things did not go well for him in the first inning. He pitched badly and suffered from a blind umpire’s poor regard for strikes. Two runs scored in the top of the first, but then Stroman made a remarkable fielding play. With the bases loaded, the batter hit a hard grounder headed toward the gap between short and third. In one quick motion, Stroman finished his pitch, dove to his right, snagged the ball and in a spectacular spinning motion just a few inches off the ground, threw a perfect strike to the catcher to nail the sliding runner with just a nanosecond to spare. Broadcaster Keith Hernandez called it the finest fielding play by a pitcher he’d ever seen. Stroman then pitched the next three innings flawlessly, then, tired, was replaced in the top of the fifth, and the Mets won.

Stroman’s ERA is 5.70, which is not good. Steven Matz’s ERA is 4.90, which could be better. We shall see what we shall see.

A week later, which was this week, the manager tried the same Long Island pitching sequence again. This time Matz pitched very well, just shy of seven full innings, and won the game. Then came Stroman and a six solid innings during which he struck out nine. Call them the East End Twins. Things are looking up.

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