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Steven Matz experienced turning negatives into positives

New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz looks on

New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz looks on during spring training baseball practice Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Another test is in store for Steven Matz, who has a bone spur in his left elbow and might require surgery, according to sources. The news came on the eve of Matz’s one-year anniversary with the Mets in the major leagues.

If form holds, Matz will not obsess about his latest injury, just as he did not fixate on last Friday’s start against the Braves in Atlanta. Given an 8-0 lead, he was removed in the fifth inning after surrendering six runs. Though television viewers saw Matz with his head bowed and draped in a towel in the dugout, he didn’t have a conniption, and those who know him well didn’t expect him to.

“After the game, a couple hours later he’s done and saying, ‘I’m ready for my next game,’ ” Ron Matz, the pitcher’s father, said Sunday. “After his first start, he did the same thing,’’ referring to his son allowing seven runs in less than two innings to the Marlins on April 11, “and then look what he did — seven [wins] in a row . . . ’’

Matz is 11-3 with a 2.96 ERA in his career. Before the spur was discovered, his father speculated that his son was going through a “dead arm’’ period. Staying healthy may be his biggest challenge. He had a long recovery after Tommy John surgery while he was in the minors, and a partial tear of his left lat muscle in his back sidelined him for two months last season. A tender elbow this season resulted in a cortisone injection and one missed start, and now surgery might be in store.

“Steven wants to win. He would not let his teammates down. He’s not going to go out there hurt,’’ said Lou Petrucci, Matz’s former coach at Ward Melville High School. “I believe that he won’t jeopardize a game for anything but victory. I think things that might cripple other people don’t bother Steven. Steve has a positive outlook on things. Even anything negative he will turn into a positive.”

‘I want to give back’

Matz no longer lives on Long Island. He has an apartment in Long Island City, though his impact still resonates throughout the Three Village community, where Matz has spent his time and money to help those who helped him fulfill his goal of making the majors.

Matz became an instant hometown star — and key member of the Mets’ starting rotation — after a stellar beginning to his career last June 28 against the Reds. He allowed two runs and five hits in 7 2⁄3 innings and had three hits and four RBIs.

Looking back, Matz said, “Of course, it is something that you work for. Once it’s your job, you want to be the best at your job, to be able to make it to the highest level.’’

Matz left his childhood home in Stony Brook partly because his burgeoning fame drew fans to the front door. “He had to move. They were driving him crazy,’’ said Matz’s grandfather, Bert Moller of Commack, who became a YouTube sensation for his animated reactions while watching his grandson pitch at Citi Field last season. “Every time they would see his white truck, no matter what time of the day or night, they were pounding on the door. They wanted to get autographs.’’

Matz said the long drive from his home to the ballpark “can exhaust you. Even if I did have complete privacy, I would have done the same thing. I’m a 25-year-old guy. I want to be on my own at this point.’’

But he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. There is a child, whose parent could not afford a glove, who is playing in the Three Village Baseball League, thanks to the glove he got from Matz. Equipment in that league — and at Ward Melville High School — was paid for by Matz, who played in the Three Village Baseball League as a youngster. And thousands of kids are attending Mets games this season, league president Joe Cornish said, because Matz paid for the tickets.

And when his presence is more powerful than money, Matz is there. He did a clinic at Ward Melville over the winter. “He was there for hours on end,’’ former high school teammate A.J. Nunziato said. “I have no doubt he’ll continue to do these things even though he’s not living on Long Island anymore.’’

No doubt. “I want to give back to where I came from,’’ Matz said. “That’s kind of the driving force.’’

Hometown support group

It’s not a one-way street in which Matz does all the giving. His friends and family are there for him, too, and he needed their support just after Thanksgiving last year when Matz’s girlfriend, Taylor Cain, lead singer of the country music trio The Caines, became seriously ill with kidney problems in Nashville.

The two had just returned from Honduras, where they were helping impoverished children. Suddenly, the pitcher was in a new territory of emotions. “I think he was really scared,’’ his father said. “Every time we talked, it just seems like the news day after day after day was not getting better, it was getting worse. It was getting scary . . . ’’

Matz recently revealed the gravity of Cain’s situation when he spoke to his congregation at Calvary Chapel in Amityville. “Picture this,’’ he told the group. “A girl who’s pursuing country music, young, healthy.’’

Matz then told the congregation that her doctor had said, “With this medicine, you can lose your hair, you can lose your voice, you can become sterile. It can cause psychosis. Your face will puff up like a chipmunk. You can get acne.’’

Said Matz, “All in one sentence, he just ripped this girl’s life from her hands.’’

Several days went by. Suddenly, miraculously, Matz said, “The doctor came in, started crying and saying, ‘I’m canceling her surgery . . . She’ll be 100 percent healed.’ ”

Speaking to a reporter later, Matz called the episode “devastating. The final diagnosis was called acute tubular necrosis, which is pretty much a little [blockage] in your kidney . . . which doesn’t let all the toxins filter out. They don’t know the exact cause. She never drank in her life. They just don’t know. It was one of those freak things that happens. Our faith means everything to us, that’s how we did it. She’s fine now and touring the United Kingdom.’’

During the ordeal, Matz had his Long Island contingent in his corner. “We reached out to him,’’ Nunziato said. “Made sure he’s OK. Just being there as friends. Everybody was there for him and supporting him.’’

They will have to be there again if he undergoes elbow surgery.

“He understands how important baseball is to him, but his family and the people around him are so far ahead, it’s not even funny,’’ Petrucci said. “All of the people that are important to Steven in his life transcend baseball.’’

Petrucci found that out firsthand when he recently lost his condo in a fire — and Matz, right after a start in Pittsburgh, was the first to call him.

Matz doesn’t believe in worshipping athletes. “A lot of kids call us their heroes,’’ he told a group of servicemen and women at his Tru 32 program at Citi Field, “but we take a step back and appreciate all that you guys do.’’

Matz remains a local hero at Se-Port Deli in East Setauket, where the specialty sandwich that bears his name is “selling phenomenally,’’ manager Ken Smith said. “Anything named after Steven Matz is a winner.’’

With Marc Carig

New York Sports