Steven Matz was warming up Friday night for the last of the first inning in the road gray threads of the Toronto Blue Jays. A video tribute played on the big board beyond the centerfield fence at Citi Field, saluting his days pitching for the Mets and pitching in with his charitable efforts.
The sound of a warm welcome-back ovation filled the air.
And then eight pitches in, Pete Alonso gave the 30-year-old lefty from Stony Brook a not-so-warm welcome back, rocking a two-run homer.
But Matz settled down after that and threw a very good game as part of an engaging pitching duel with rookie righthander Tylor Megill.
When Matz left to the sound of another ovation with two outs in the sixth, he had allowed just the two runs, four hits and three walks and struck out five. Megill yielded no runs and two hits with five strikeouts and a walk in six innings.
The Mets had given up on Matz back in January, dealing him to the Blue Jays. Interestingly, the Mets’ acting GM, Zack Scott, had been shopping for starting pitching recently to help their injury-ravaged rotation. Scott made a move before the game, acquiring 41-year-old lefty Rich Hill from Tampa Bay.
At one time, Matz was viewed as one of the long-term answers in the rotation after the Mets made him a second-round pick out of Ward Melville in 2009.
There were some good moments. Take 2015 when he earned a win and drove in four in his major-league debut against Cincinnati, and when he turned in a strong five innings in Game 4 of the World Series against Kansas City. He won nine games in 2016 and a career-high 11 in 2019.
But overall there were plenty of injury issues, and he also never quite met expectations, finishing his six-season run at 31-41 with a 4.35 ERA. It ended with a very down 2020 — 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA in nine games, including six starts.
The Mets traded him for pitchers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski on Jan. 27.
Matz became the first pitcher in Blue Jays history to win his first four starts with them, and he did it with a 2.31 ERA. But he has been on an up-and-down ride since then. So he entered his return-home game at 8-4 with a 4.43 ERA across 16 starts.
"At the end of the day, it’s just another game," Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said beforehand. "But when you have family in town and when you’re from here and you’ve been here in the past, it’s always going to be different."
Brandon Nimmo got the first-inning rally started, working out a leadoff walk. Then Alonso sent a 95 mph offering 406 feet to the leftfield seats.
But Matz quickly found his way from there.
Notes & quotes: Jeff McNeil was out of the starting lineup. Manager Luis Rojas said he still had "a little fatigue" in his left leg. McNeil left Wednesday’s game in Cincinnati in the eighth. He was out of the lineup for more than a month in the first half with a strained left hamstring. Rojas said the performance staff was being "extremely precautious with him." … Righty Robert Stock [hamstring] was moved from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day IL to make room for Hill on the 40-man roster. … The Cubs claimed outfielder Johneshwy Fargas off waivers from the Mets and sent him to Triple-A Iowa.
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