Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
CHICAGO - Steven Matz was in a happy daze late Wednesday night when he took a break from the claustrophobic craziness of the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
(Hey, why not live it up? The room had most recently hosted a series-clinching celebration by a New York team when Babe Ruth and the '32 Yankees partied there.)
There were questions to be asked of the rookie who started and very nearly won Game 4 of the NLCS as the Mets closed out the Cubs in four games, 8-3. One of them went like this:DataPro sports draftees from Long Island
Did he see a pitching staff of this power and depth coming when the season began?
Matz said he knew the Mets had assembled a good team, but he pointed out a limitation in his ability to assess the staff: "I was still in Triple-A coming out of spring training."
Such is the remarkableness of Matz's journey in particular and of the Mets' staff in general.
Matz and Noah Syndergaard both started the season with Las Vegas. Matt Harvey started it with uncertainty over his surgically repaired right elbow. Only reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom was a relative given.
Now they have all of Major League Baseball shaking its collective head over the breadth and depth of talent in the Mets' arsenal.
Nothing quite matches the rise of Matz. The 24-year-old lefty out of Stony Brook and Ward Melville High School has proved to be preternaturally poised during a big-league career that began on June 28 and has endured a couple of injury-related hiccups.
There he was Wednesday night on the mound in one of the most historic places on the American sports map, with Cubs fans still fully engaged even with their team on the brink of another ring-less autumn.
How'd that go?
Well, the first sign it might be Matz's -- and the Mets' -- night was that he faced a pitch before he threw a pitch, as the Mets batted around in a four-run top of the first.
Through three innings, he had not allowed a hit. Things got complicated in the fourth, when the Cubs loaded the bases with none out. But David Wright leaped to catch Starlin Castro's screaming line drive, and Matz ended up allowing only one run.
He would have escaped the fifth if not for a pop-up that fell in. After another single, Matz was done, one out shy of being eligible for a victory.
"I think my stuff started getting a little flat when I was pitching out of the stretch," Matz said. "So [Kris] Bryant's a dangerous guy up there and they wanted to go to a veteran guy in Bartolo Colon."
Colon struck out Bryant to end the threat -- and later earn the victory.
If ever there were a situation in which a pitcher did not care about the official credit for a 'W,' this was it.
"As a starting pitcher, you want to go over five innings, but this is the postseason," Matz said. "We're here to win the game, and it's not about one guy."
Matz said he "felt really crisp" from the start before losing his rhythm. "Overall, I'm happy," he said.
What's not to be happy about? Matz, who grew up a Mets fan, had his parents, girlfriend and several friends with him in the old park. His telegenic grandfather, Bert Moller, did not make the trip.
As his entourage made it through the Wrigley catacombs en route to the dugout and finally an on-field celebration, Matz's father, Ron, beamed. "It's just unbelievable; it's awesome," he said. "I thought he did great."
As if the rest of the National League did not have enough to worry about with Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard, now this?
"Yeah, man, it really is unbelievable," Matz said of his team's pitching power. "It shows how good the Mets' organization is at developing players, the front office and everything. I can't say enough about them."
Now there is another series to play, one in which he potentially could face fellow Long Islander Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays -- another young star whom he pitched against in high school.
With two creditable postseason starts under his belt, there is no reason to be intimidated by the World Series, in which he presumably will be penciled in for Game 4 at Citi Field on Halloween night. He won't be scared.
"I've pitched a postseason game on the road now, and I pitched one at home," he said. "I think it definitely sets me up."