In years past — in months past, even — Steven Matz never would have been granted the chance to put together the kind of game he had Saturday night.
Working around a bunch of baserunners and never particularly efficient, he got through a gutsy six innings with three runs (two earned) allowed to lead the Mets to a 5-3 win over the Rockies at Citi Field.
Matz struck out a season-high 10 batters, and the final pitch of his career high-tying 120 was a huge one: a curveball up in the zone that induced a swing-and-miss from Rockies leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon, who was seeing Matz for a fourth time, to strand a pair of runners.
Bench coach Jim Riggleman and pitching coach Dave Eiland made the decision in place of Mickey Callaway, who had been ejected, to leave Matz in for that critical at-bat. It put on full display the recently developed trust the Mets have in the Long Island lefthander (and, perhaps, a lack of confidence in their middle relievers).
“Pitching at its finest,” Callaway said. “We have a ton of trust in him. He’s deserved that. It really showed up tonight and got us a big win.”
The old Matz — the one who cracked under the teensiest bit of pressure, who too often didn’t last his 100-pitch approximate limit — might have been pulled, say, when he plunked Blackmon to put two on with two out in the fourth inning, moments after Todd Frazier’s throwing error allowed the Rockies to tie the score. Or after the fifth, when he set Colorado down in order but reached 100 pitches. Or at any of several points in the sixth: when Ian Desmond led off with a hard single that knocked Matz’s glove off, when Tony Wolters was hit by a pitch, when Blackmon stepped to the plate.
The new Matz powered through all of those moments. He reached double-digits in strikeouts for the second time in his career and walked two.
“It’s a huge change, and he deserves it,” Callaway said.
Said Matz: “It’s huge, especially with the pitch count up like that, the top of the lineup coming up again. It’s nice when they have trust in you like that. It definitely gives you confidence.”
Far from perfect, Matz (3.88 ERA) allowed the Rockies to tie it twice in the half-innings immediately after the Mets scored. His leadoff walk of Wolters in the third started a two-run rally. In the fourth, consecutive singles by Brendan Rodgers and Wolters produced another run (when poor throws from Michael Conforto and Frazier on the same play allowed Rodgers to score).
The Mets (31-33) got to Jon Gray for four runs in 5 2⁄3 innings. A trio of 30-somethings who have been lineup mainstays each had two hits: Wilson Ramos (run), Frazier (RBI, run) and Carlos Gomez (two-run homer in the second).
Rookie Pete Alonso added a critical insurance run in the seventh with a home run, his 21st of the year, second in the majors behind Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (23). Not realizing he had earned a free trip around the bases on his high fly ball that barely got over the wall in left, Alonso slid into third during his home run trot. Then he saw the home run signal from the umpires.
“I was like, all right, sweet,” Alonso said. “Probably one of the most interesting ones I’ve hit for sure.”