Having a day off on Monday to bask in the glow of the extraordinary debut of pitcher (and apparently hitter) Steven Matz was a great thing for the Mets and their fans. Coming off a 1-7 road trip that brought the former first-place team crashing back to Earth, the arrival of the final piece of the Mets' pitching rotation of the future proved a cause for celebration.
Matz's obvious gifts on the mound in pitching 7 2/3 innings of five-hit, two-run ball reinforced the notion that he can be a full partner with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and even Zack Wheeler once he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The unexpected bonus of Matz's bat, which produced four RBIs in a 3-for-3 day at the plate, reinvigorated the dugout as well as the stands.
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"If our fan base can't get excited about what they're seeing going on right now with the people on the mound, I don't know what can excite them outside of wins and wins and wins,'' manager Terry Collins said. "Those guys are going to be the key to all those wins coming down the road because they're an impressive group of arms coming in there.''
Matz wasn't perfect. He gave up solo home runs by Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier, but the real story was how he responded to those mistakes with his uncanny poise and athleticism.
"For a young guy, he's come a long way,'' Collins said. "I was there the first game he ever pitched in professional baseball. As we saw in spring training, we saw a man walking onto that mound. He's an impressive kid.''
When it was suggested to Collins that he might consider getting Matz's bat in the lineup between starts, he snorted and said, "Yeah, and Syndergaard's and deGrom's.'' Those two also have shown the ability to handle themselves at the plate.
"We're in a [hitting] slump,'' Collins said.
Referring to Matz's two-run double in his first at-bat, he added, "Steven got us the hit we needed to get us back in the lead and kind of lighten things up in the dugout a little bit. It loosened everybody up.''
Curtis Granderson, the one regular who has been hot at the plate lately, said the ball was "actually jumping off the bat'' when he saw Matz take batting practice on Saturday. When he took it into the game and paired it with his pitching prowess, Granderson said all the Mets were energized.
"We're all feeling it, especially when you see a guy go up there and swing the bat the way that he did,'' Granderson said. "Obviously, he was pitching very well against a very good offensive lineup in the Cincinnati Reds. He was able to stay poised. He had a couple balls get out of the ballpark, but he stayed confident, stayed with what he trusted and continued to work and stay deep into the ballgame.''
It would be unfair to expect Matz to continue to swing the bat like an All-Star, but what he showed on the mound was clear evidence that he can contain real All-Star hitters. "You guys saw it,'' said catcher Johnny Monell, who worked with Matz at Triple-A Las Vegas.
"He threw his breaking ball for strikes. The changeup and actually the sinker worked tremendously in New York . . . [It didn't break as sharply] because of the elevation in Vegas. On that side of the plate, inside to lefties and outside to righties, he did a really good job.
"Predominantly, we were pounding guys in, but now that he has that side of the plate, working that two-seamer, he's got four pitches that he can do anything he wants."
Matz's performance merited several standing ovations from the Citi Field crowd, but you can believe hearts in the dugout were soaring, too.
"It's awesome,'' Monell said. "The kid is special, man. The kid is a super- athlete . . . It's a great day for him, the Mets and the organization.''
Reason to believe.