Steven Matz will take a major- league mound Tuesday night for the first time in almost three weeks. His seventh start also will be his first playoff appearance, and all he'll have to do is outduel Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw in an attempt to close out a postseason series for the team he grew up rooting for (but never saw win a World Series).
"I'm really trying to take the emotions out of it," said Matz, understated and stoic on Monday during his news conference before NLDS Game 3. "I have a job to do tomorrow."
That job wasn't definite until after the Mets won Monday night. Manager Terry Collins then announced that Matz will start Game 4 with the chance to put the Mets in the NLCS.
It's a safe bet that the former Ward Melville star, 24, feels the importance of his start. He has invited eight people to the game and said he "was definitely thinking about being in [this] spot" when he watched the Mets' postseason losses in 2000 and 2006.
"I'm not really looking at it as a fan," he said before reiterating that he was trying to turn off his emotions. (That seemed like a nearly impossible task for pretty much anyone Monday night, when the Mets sent their fans into a fervor by trotting out Ruben Tejada for pregame introductions and having Rusty Staub, who recently suffered a heart attack, throw out the first pitch.)
"We've got a job to do and I've got a job to do . . . and that's win the game, so that's just the way I'm looking at it," Matz said.
To his credit, he certainly seemed capable of blocking out all the other stuff in the past. He allowed two runs in 72/3 innings against the Reds in his major- league debut at Citi Field and gave up one run in six innings against the Yankees. He also has pitched in four minor-league playoff games, going 2-0 with a 1.10 ERA. Last year, he helped the Binghamton Mets win their first league title since 1994.
The Yankees game "did help me a lot because now this won't be the first time I'll be pitching in front of a crowd like that," Matz said. "So now it's kind of like I've been there and I feel like I'm ready to do it."
Complicating matters is that Matz, who made an instructional league start Thursday after being scratched from a Mets start because of back pain, hasn't been in a major-league game since Sept. 24. He's 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA this year but seemed less sharp in his last start against Cincinnati, when he allowed three runs and 10 hits in 52/3 innings. He has said, and repeated on Monday, that he feels fine.
If anyone is doubting his ability, it's not the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly. In only his second big-league start on July 5, Matz limited the Dodgers to two hits in six shutout innings, striking out eight, and Mattingly has the video to remind him, he said.
"We have to prepare for what we see as his best and expect that out of him," Mattingly said. "His best stuff, his best locations, expect him to do that."