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Steven Matz throws first career shutout as Mets top Pirates

Steven Matz went the distance as the Mets

Steven Matz went the distance as the Mets beat the Pirates, 3-0, at Citi Field on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets’ rotation these days is full of headline-grabbers. Most notable in the immediate term is Zack Wheeler, a pending free agent who is likely to be traded in the coming days. And then there is Noah Syndergaard, who is less likely to be traded but nonetheless is the center of many rumors. And Jacob deGrom, who has his ERA down to 2.86 and is lingering on the periphery of the National League Cy Young Award picture. And Jason Vargas, who also has drawn some trade interest.

But don’t forget about Steven Matz. Given the questions surrounding the starting staff in 2020, a season in which the Mets say they plan to contend for the playoffs, Matz’s importance and prominence is due to only rise. And that will be even truer if he can extend this strong start to his second half.

Matz pitched the first shutout of his career in the Mets’ 3-0 win over the Pirates on Saturday night. Needing only 99 pitches to dominate the Pittsburgh lineup for nine innings, the Long Island lefthander allowed five hits, walked none and struck out seven (including six looking).

“Honestly, this is what I try to do every game,” Matz said. “I finally did it.”

The Mets (49-55) have won four of their past five games and have clinched their fourth series win out of five since the All-Star break. Their 2.62 team ERA — including 2.50 from the starters — is the best in baseball.

“Whatever happened before the All-Star break, you had this idea that, man, if this goes right and this goes right, we’re going to be the team we want to be,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “And I guess it’s good to see that you’re right about that. Right? If guys perform out of the bullpen, we score a few runs, our starting pitchers are going to hold them pretty close — that’s a formula for winning. These guys can do it.”

Matz has a 1.89 ERA in his past three starts — a significant improvement over the way he finished the first half, when a 7.36 ERA in June meant a quick stint in the bullpen.

The Pirates’ only baserunner early was Josh Bell, who reached on Todd Frazier’s fielding error in the second. Bryan Reynolds grounded into a double play as Matz continued to face the minimum number of batters. Pittsburgh’s first hit came with one out in the fourth, when Melky Cabrera doubled to left-center. He didn’t advance.

After the fifth, Matz (4.32 ERA) noticed he had a shot at finishing what he started.

“I realized we had a few really quick innings there,” said Matz, who previously never had taken the mound in the ninth inning. “And I’ve never done it, so in the back of my mind, honestly, I was just thinking, just keeping working quick and getting ahead of guys. Don’t take a breath and just stay right after it.”

Matz faced minor trouble from there but always escaped. With runners at the corners and one out in the sixth, Cabrera grounded into a double play. When Reynolds singled and advanced on Wilson Ramos’ passed ball in the seventh, Matz got a pop-out from Jose Osuna. After the eighth, he snuck a peek at the television monitor in the Mets’ dugout, which shows a live feed of the Mets’ bullpen. Nobody was warming up.

Kevin Newman singled to open the ninth, but Matz retired the next three in order.

“He was just tremendous in every way,” Callaway said. “He was executing all four of his pitches. I thought his cutter/slider was probably the best I’ve ever seen it. I think it was the second pitch of the game, he ripped on it, carved it in. And then from then on, everything was working. He was dropping his curveball in there for strikes when he needed to, fastball coming back on the inside corner.”

Said Matz, “[The Pirates] were really aggressive, and my sinker and slider were a pretty good combo today to get some quick outs. My changeup got me back into some outs. Really, a mix of everything.”

For much of the night, Pittsburgh righthander Trevor Williams was just as good. He allowed three runs in seven innings, walking two and striking out seven. J.D. Davis’ fifth-inning double was the Mets’ first hit. Michael Conforto homered in the sixth and Davis added a two-run shot in the seventh.

“It was unbelievable. Matzy, he’s been grinding a lot this year,” Davis said. “We’re kind of clicking right now.”

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