Talking Baseball: Yastrzemski, Stroman, Matz, de Grom & the Legend of Mazeika

New York Mets pinch hitter Patrick Mazeika (76) celebrates with shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after his game-winning RBI during the bottom of the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field.
New York Mets pinch hitter Patrick Mazeika (76) celebrates with shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after his game-winning RBI during the bottom of the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Eleven years ago, nearly a dozen major league baseball scouts traveled to eastern Long Island to watch a high school game in Patchogue. Two young standout seniors were pitching against one another. Both struck out the side through most of the game. And the final score in 10 innings was 1-0. Patchogue-Medford defeated Ward Melville. Which was totally irrelevant.

The scouts were there because Carl Yastrzemski, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, had grown up 50 years earlier in Bridgehampton, the son of a Polish potato farmer. Yastrzemski was in the Hall of Fame. One year, playing for the Boston Red Sox, he’d won the Triple Crown—the most home runs, the highest batting average and the most runs batted in all at the same time. It took 40 years before any baseball player could do that again.

Because of Yaz, the scouts, looking for another player like him, had an eye on all those high schools on eastern Long Island. Steven Matz, of German American heritage and from Stony Brook, had the stuff. And so did Marcus Stroman, of African-American heritage, in Patchogue.

Matz, right out of high school, was recruited by the New York Mets, and soon joined the rotation as a starting pitcher. He was playing at home. And like many in the Matz family, he was a Mets fan.

Marcus Stroman took a different path. He went off to college at Duke, and then, some years after Matz, joined the rotation pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Though both pitched well, neither lived up to the legend of Carl Yastrzemski. They were serviceable starting pitchers for those teams for the next 10 years.

Which brings us to this year.

Through a series of trades, Steven Matz is now pitching for the Blue Jays and Marcus Stroman is pitching for the Mets. The sportswriters thought it interesting, but not much else. As middling veterans, it was expected they would be traded around for awhile and then retire.

But that is not what happened. Both pitchers thrived with their new teams. Matz won his first four starts of the year, blasting away with a wondrous curve and an unhittable sinker. Steven said he liked Toronto. It was exciting to contribute to a team that might make the playoffs. Certainly his old team, the Mets, never would.

Or would they? During the interval between last year and this, hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohn bought the Mets from the Wilpon family. The Wilpons had lost most of their considerable fortune in the Madoff scandal and could never afford top players. But Steve Cohn could. And he began bringing in some real stars.

With that, Marcus Stroman has become outstanding. In his latest outing, he pitched against the Baltimore Orioles who chose their star pitcher John Means to pitch against Stroman. Means, just nine days ago, had pitched the second no-hitter of his career, a rare accomplishment. The Mets got six scattered hits against him, but could not score a run in the six innings he pitched. But Stroman matched him, allowing just five hits in his six innings, though they did get a run. (By the way, Stroman’s proud mom works for the Town of Southampton where they cheer him on.) In the end, though, the Mets triumphed 3-2.

I’d like to end this baseball account by writing about three other players, two for the Mets, and a third by the name of Yastrzemski via his famous grandfather Carl.

Carl had, after his career ended, moved to New England. He’d played his entire career with the Boston Red Sox. Michael, his grandson, was born and raised in Massachusetts. Now at the peak of his career, he hits long balls for the San Francisco Giants. But he’s no Carl.

But who is?

Well, there is another Mets pitcher, Florida born and raised, who is currently pitching at a level never before seen in baseball. He’s up there with Sandy Koufax and Bob Feller, the greatest who ever were. Jacob de Grom throws 100-mile-an-hour pitches with unbelievable accuracy. A good pitcher by this time in a given baseball season might give up 20 walks and strike out 40.

This year, as I write this, de Grom has walked 4 and struck out 68. It’s unheard of. He has an earned run average of 0.62 where anything under 2.0 is considered excellent. If he’s scheduled to pitch, go see him.

Finally, there is a rookie for the Mets by the name of Patrick Mazeika. He’s slender, wears horn-rimmed glasses, sports a pointy beard, and looks like a graduate student from MIT.

I don’t know what position he plays because he’s never been a fielder. That’s because he’s never had to be in the field. How could this be?

Well, three days ago, he came up as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth. It was the first time he’d come to bat in the Major Leagues.

At that time, the score was tied with a runner at third. Mazeika swung, and the ball dribbled out toward the mound and stopped halfway. The pitcher ran in for it, the catcher ran out to it and the runner on third came home to win the game because nobody was there. With that, his Mets teammates ran out onto the field, ripped Mazeika’s shirt off his back and doused him with Champagne.

The next night he came up to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the bases loaded, kept the bat on his shoulder and then got ball four. That won the game. Again came the shirt rip and Champagne.

Then last night he came up to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with one out and a runner on third in a tie game, and hit the longest shot of his career so far, a ground ball to the first baseman. The first baseman fielded it, then desperately threw the ball to home too high as Michael Conforto came from third and slid low. Game over. Again came the shirt rip and the Champagne.

Mazeika has yet to get a hit, has never hit the ball out of the infield and has won three consecutive games for the Mets. And a shirt rip and Champagne.

Could this be the future Yaz?

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