Mickey Callaway wants to leave his starting pitchers in the game to face opposing lineups for the third time, he says, but only if they earn it.
Steven Matz, by virtue of his steady effectiveness since the start of May, earned it Saturday night. Callaway kept the Long Island lefthander in for the sixth inning against the meat of the Yankees’ order for a third time, a move that ultimately backfired when Miguel Andujar launched a tying two-run home run to leftfield on Matz’s 98th pitch.
That left what had been a strong start feeling more like a mediocre one. “Really bad pitch there in the sixth inning, and it cost us the game essentially,” Matz said after the Mets’ eighth straight loss.
Magnifying Matz’s regret was the decision-making process. Kevin Plawecki initially called for a slider inside. Matz shook him off, then did so again on Plawecki’s secondary and tertiary choices until the catcher settled for a curve. Matz wanted the curveball because he hadn’t thrown many on the night; he finished with seven.
Fresh in his memory was a 2-and-2 offering in the fifth to Gleyber Torres, who had homered in the third. Torres swung and missed, ending an eight-pitch at-bat.
Afterward, Matz remembered another curve to Andujar in the second in the upper half of the zone that was lined to third baseman Todd Frazier for an out.
Matz momentarily forgot about that scare. Andujar, it seems, did not. He hit a “slipped-out curve,” as Callaway called it, 404 feet. “That pitch is going to sit with me the rest of the night,” Matz said.
That Callaway stuck with Matz at all was a testament to the progress Matz has made since his rough April. Matz ended the opening month with a 4.98 ERA. Since then, his ERA is 2.68. With 105 pitches Saturday, Matz reached the century mark in consecutive starts for the first time in almost a year.
“It’s a testament to our whole rotation,” Callaway said. “Those guys have been getting the job done for about 20 games, and they deserve to go out there and have a chance to make or break the game.”
Before the game, Callaway spoke of his openness to leaving his starters in the game for the later innings.
“We’re not looking to take anybody out the third time through the order,” he said. “But you have to prove to us that [you can do it]. It can’t be a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation where we don’t know what we’re going to get, because then it’s not worth the risk to us to leave him out there.”
Matz’s night ended with him meeting the minimum requirements for a quality start, his third in four outings: six innings, three runs. He allowed five hits, walked four and struck out six. Before running into Andujar, Matz was enjoying a stretch of three earned runs in 21 innings (1.29 ERA).
This version of Matz is much different from the pitcher the Mets had in April, when he averaged 4 1⁄3 innings per start.
Matz worked around traffic much of the night, especially in the fifth, when he helped the Yankees load the bases with walks to starter Domingo German (on four pitches) and Aaron Hicks. “Four walks is just no good, especially walking the pitcher, who probably hasn’t swung in his whole career,” Matz said.
Aaron Judge grounded out to end the inning and Matz temporarily kept the lead.
“They’re a team that they’ll hurt you with the long ball,” Matz said. “And that’s what they did tonight.”
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.