MILWAUKEE -- Travis d’Arnaud popped out of his crouch the moment the ball hit his mitt. Tyler Matzek started to walk toward the Braves' dugout.
Both thought Matzek had struck out Brewers pinch-hitter Tyrone Taylor with an 0-2 slider on the outside corner in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Milwaukee in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at American Family Field. Both thought they had escaped a jam with runners on first and second and two outs. But the pitch was called a ball. So d’Arnaud held onto the ball while Matzek did a 180-degree spin back to the mound.
“I was just reacting to what Travis was doing,” Matzek said. “I saw him going [to the dugout], it was like, 'Cool, a strike.' When he started walking back, I was like, 'All right, guess not.' So I knew we still needed to get the job done. So I just thought, 'What are we going to do right here?'”
Matzek threw Taylor an even better slider, down in the dirt and in. Taylor swung and missed.
Strike three, for real this time.
“I credit [Matzek] for staying in the moment and not letting that [get to him] -- that's tough to do,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “In this situation … to do that and keep your composure, and then make an even better pitch the next pitch, that says a lot about Tyler Matzek.”
“I'm still in compete mode right there,” Matzek explained. “I'm not done until someone tells me I’m out of the game. I've got to keep that mindset going at 100 mph all the time, keep it going, stay focused.”
Matzek returned for the eighth, but he put the first two batters on base. Brewers fans smelled a comeback. They got a little louder, hoping to help Milwaukee rally.
“It's one of those things why I don't have any hair,” Sntiker joked.
But Matzek recovered again. He struck out Willy Adames swinging on a 1-2 fastball, got Eduardo Escobar to fly out to right and struck out Avisaíl García swinging on a 1-2 slider to end the inning.
“He’s been so solid,” Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching. He's durable as he can be. And he just keeps pitching. And he didn't get caught up in situations. It's been his M.O. ever since he's been here.”
Matzek has been one of Snitker’s most trusted postseason relievers the past two years. He had a 1.04 ERA in seven appearances last season, when the Braves came within one victory of making the World Series for the first time since 1999. Matzek has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the first two games of this series.
“He’s a great story, where he’s come from,” Snitker said.
Matzek almost left baseball after suffering from performance anxiety (aka "the yips") for years. Colorado’s first-round Draft pick in 2009, Matzek made his big league debut in '14. He started to struggle with the yips in '15, then he spent some time in independent ball before resurrecting his career last year with the Braves.
Matzek was nothing more than an extra arm in Spring Training 2020 before the pandemic hit -- or, as Snitker called him, “a fence jumper.” But Matzek impressed. Snitker asked Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos about him when compiling the Summer Camp roster.
“What about that left-hander that came in and struck everybody out in Spring Training?” Snitker recalled.
Matzek got into Summer Camp, made the team and has been getting big outs since.
“It’s the same game -- 60 feet, 6 inches,” Matzek said. “I'm going to go out there, throw strikes. Doesn't matter if everyone's yelling against me or for me. My job is to go out there, see Travis, throw the ball to Travis and get outs.”