Meet the Matz: Historic debut for Mets lefty
Four RBIs is most by pitcher, Mets rookie in MLB debut
NEW YORK -- For hours, Steven Matz made Citi Field's clubhouse his home, arriving early Sunday morning with plenty of time to marvel at the "comfortable couches." Welcome to the big leagues; the idle hours are not so bad. It was not until he stepped to the mound in the late afternoon that jitters truly enveloped Matz, who fired his first 96-mph fastball to the brick behind home plate.
Then, just like that, Matz transformed into a force as dominant at the plate as he was on the mound. The rookie from Long Island cracked a two-run double in his first big league plate appearance Sunday, en route to a three-hit, four-RBI day in the Mets' 7-2 win over the Reds.
Turns out all the Mets' flagging offense needed was … another starting pitcher. Matz became the first player -- pitcher or otherwise -- in franchise history to drive home four runs in his debut, and the first Mets pitcher to do it in any game since Dwight Gooden in 1990. He was the first pitcher to have three hits in his debut since Jason Jennings did it for the Rockies in 2001.
He is the first pitcher on record (since 1914) to have three hits and four RBIs in his first Major League game, and the 11th player overall. He's also the only pitcher with four-plus RBIs in his debut, regardless of hits.
It's almost enough records and historical nuggets to overshadow his success on the mound, where Matz featured a 96-mph fastball and high-70s curve throughout 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball.
"The kid's special, man," said catcher Johnny Monell. "The kid's a super athlete."
The latest in a long line of pitching uber-prospects that began with Matt Harvey in 2012, Matz began his afternoon with some obvious nerves, firing his first big league pitch to the backstop and allowing a home run to the first batter he faced, Brandon Phillips. Yet Matz settled down to retire six of the next seven batters heading into the bottom of the second.
An error, two groundouts and an intentional walk that inning brought him to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs. Matz responded with a healthy swing-and-a-miss at the first pitch he saw, before belting a double over center fielder Billy Hamilton's head.
As two runs came around to score, Matz stood at second base, animatedly pumping his fist.
"We needed it," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Three innings later, with a man on first base, Matz grounded a single through the vacated left side of the infield. Then he came to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth, knocking a two-run single over Phillips' head.
Though his team was aware of Matz's reputation as a hitter coming into the game, Reds manager Bryan Price noted that, "in the end, he should be the ninth best hitter in their lineup. And unfortunately today he was their best."
If that statement spoke volumes about the Mets' regular offense, it also said something about Matz. Until this season, he had never recorded a professional hit in 20 plate appearances. But Matz batted .304 with three RBIs in 25 plate appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas -- also posting a 2.19 ERA on the mound -- before his call-up Sunday.
Matz credited his success to little more than extra batting practice, though it's clear he was prepared. When he returned home after Saturday's suspended game, Matz spent his evening sanding the bat that Las Vegas teammate Matt Reynolds gave him to use.
"He was ready for this," Collins said. "It was time."
Perhaps it had been time for a while. In conversations with Collins leading up to Matz's call-up, Las Vegas manager Wally Backman said Matz was "bored" with the Pacific Coast League -- the same descriptor Mets officials used for Harvey back in 2012. Like Harvey, Matz set about proving that immediately; outside of the home run to Phillips, he made just one other damaging mistake on a thigh-high fastball that Todd Frazier hit out for a solo homer in the fourth.
When he struck out Jason Bourgeois on a 94-mph fastball to end the seventh inning at 100 pitches, earning another standing ovation from the Citi Field crowd, it seemed as if Matz's day would be done. But Collins let him go back out for the eighth, retiring two more batters before a walk ended his night.
And what a night.
"Jacob deGrom told me, 'Now you're a big leaguer,'" Matz said. "'You let up a couple home runs, you got a couple strikeouts, got a couple hits. You did it all today.'"