This weekend at PNC Park in Pittsburgh won’t be the first time that Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz share the same mound.
The Mets teammates have a long history together dating to well before they made their major-league aspirations come true.
There were their days as teammates for the Paveco Storm, an elite travel team both played for during their early teen years.
And who can forget the day in the spring of 2009 when Matz led his Ward Melville Patriots to a 1-0 victory over Stroman and his defending Suffolk League I champion Patchogue-Medford Raiders?
In what is widely regarded as one of the best games in the history of Long Island high school baseball, Matz and Stroman matched up in an epic pitching duel at Patchogue-Medford, throwing up zeros and blowing away batters into the seventh inning.
It was that spring afternoon in 2009 that brought longtime Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci and his counterpart from Pat-Med, Tony Frascogna, to Newsday’s high school sports podcast this past week to reminisce about what helped lead the two pitchers to the big leagues. Each had a close-up view of not only that game but an important developmental period in both pitchers’ careers.
“I remember thinking that this game is bigger than what we were going for as far as a league title,” Frascogna said. “We were fighting for a playoff spot and we started slow that year and were trying to pick off wins wherever we could. But we had to let these guys battle it out and meet up one time.”
And battle they did. Ward Melville pulled out the victory after a runner dashed home in the top of the seventh while a batter was being thrown out at first on a third strike in the dirt.
Stroman struck out 14 and allowed three hits. Matz struck out 12 and allowed one hit. Each threw a complete game, and both coaches said there was no way either pitcher wouldn’t have returned to the mound if the game had gone to extra innings.
“We tried the best we could to make it a normal routine,” Frascogna said, noting that the area behind the backstop was full of scouts (every MLB team had a representative at the game). “It was fun to take in and I tried to look at it and realize this probably won’t happen again.”
The game and series had extra meaning for Petrucci and his squad. The Patriots were looking to win the league title for the first time in 34 years — or, as the coach put it, “since Abner Doubleday invented baseball.”
“I think Steven put the team in front of himself to win that game,” Petrucci said. “If Tony had said Marcus was going to pitch Game 1 of the series, then Steven would have said he was pitching Game 1.”
The coaches discussed the shared qualities that helped both succeed on and off the field — the incredible work ethic and leadership both possessed at a young age, their penchant for signing as many autographs as possible for kids and their desire to give back to the community.
Both knew early on that they had special players.
“I told Steven after watching him in the gym his sophomore year, ‘you’re going to get drafted out here,’ “ Petrucci said.
Frascogna said of Stroman: “If a guy like that can’t make it, then who can?”