Matz does Mets, dad proud in Series debut
Rookie allows two runs over five-plus innings during ninth big league start
NEW YORK -- When Royals catcher Salvador Perez finally, mercifully, went down swinging to end the top of the sixth inning of World Series Game 4 on Saturday, Ron Matz bolted from his seat in section 114 at Citi Field to the concession stand for a bottle of water.
Matz and his wife, Lori, had just squirmed through 21 perilous pitches after their son, Steven, a 24-year-old from neighboring Long Island pitching in his ninth Major League game, had exited the game with a one-run lead in the balance and a runner on base. Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon needed all 21 of those pitches to record three outs, including 10 from Colon to Perez and nine with the tying runner 90 feet from home.
When Colon won the battle, Steven Matz was in line to win a World Series game for the team he cheered as a boy.
And Ron Matz was quickly in line to get that cold drink.
"I'm just numb right now," he said.
The night did not end the way the Matzes had hoped. The Mets' lead slipped away in the eighth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Royals, leaving New York in a 3-1 series deficit (Game 5, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX). Since the World Series became a best-of-seven affair, only five of the 43 teams to fall into that hole have climbed out.
Even if the Mets get all the way to a Game 7, Matz, who has a Tommy John surgery in his medical file, has probably thrown the final pitch of his whirlwind of a season.
"It's tough. Nobody wants to lose," said the left-hander, who was charged with two runs on seven hits in five-plus innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. "We're all grinding this out the best we can. But we've still got to win three, so we're going to keep on fighting here."
His day began at a significantly lower level of stress. Continuing a tradition that began when the Mets called him up in June, Matz is staying with his parents at home in Stony Brook, N.Y., about 50 miles from Citi Field on Long Island. Saturday morning, he rose in time to go for breakfast at a local bagel shop with his mom and dad, his girlfriend and his girlfriend's sister. Matz's pregame meal was egg whites, spinach and tomato on whole-wheat toast.
If that wasn't normal enough, Matz returned home to hand out Halloween candy. His dad noted with a smile that the volume of visitors was particularly high, and many were far too old to be trick-or-treating. They were fans eager to meet the Met who was about to pitch on baseball's biggest stage.
"He handed out candy, signed a few jerseys," Ron Matz said, "and then it was off to the ballpark."
Steven Matz was calm in the bullpen, catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. When they finished warming up, pitcher and catcher had a brief discussion about how to start Royals leadoff man Alcides Escobar, who has feasted on fastballs throughout the postseason. The night before, Noah Syndergaard had famously thrown a fastball high and off the plate to start Escobar off. Matz said he wanted to go first-pitch curveball.
"I trusted him that he was going to get a strike, and he did," d'Arnaud said. "He did great."
Escobar eventually did get a fastball in the at-bat and opened the game with a single. But he was erased on an odd double play, with Ben Zobrist striking out swinging and Escobar called out on Zobrist's catcher interference. After that, Matz settled in. He surrendered only one more hit until the fifth inning, when Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes kicked Perez's bloop hit to center field for an ugly double, and Alex Gordon made it 2-1 with an RBI single.
When Michael Conforto hit his second solo home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, Mets manager Terry Collins opted to attempt to get one more inning from his rookie starter. But Matz surrendered a Zobrist double leading off the sixth inning followed by Lorenzo Cain's RBI single, and it was time for those tense pitches from Niese and Colon. Matz had done his job.
Did the Mets enter the night with any questions about how Matz would handle his moment?
"Not when you see 95, 96 [mph] from the left side with that curveball and changeup," David Wright said. "I don't care if you don't have any starts. You have that type of stuff, you're going to have success at this level, and he's going to have a lot of success."
Underneath his facade, Matz's stomach was churning.
"I was really nervous," he said. "Had a lot of nerves. But once I got out there, I settled down and felt good. It was just a game after that."
In his six regular-season starts for the Mets plus three in the postseason, Matz is 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He has struck out 47 batters in 50 1/3 innings versus 14 walks.
It is a breakthrough for a pitcher who didn't pitch at all in 2010 and 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and was working in Class A ball just 16 months ago.
"I got to pitch in the postseason and the World Series, and I held my own," Matz said. "I'm pretty optimistic."
After watching his son pitch in the World Series an hour's drive from his front door, so was Dad.
"It was amazing," Ron Matz said. "He looked like he was on tonight. Maybe he got a little tired at the end, but he did an unbelievable job. I'm proud of him."