A little more than two months after his incredibly successful big-league debut, Long Island lefty Steven Matz returned to Citi Field Tuesday.
He was activated from the disabled list as rosters expanded. He will make his third big-league start and first since July 5 on Saturday or Sunday against the Marlins in Miami.
"I'm back here and ready to go," Matz said before the Mets' 14-8 loss to the Phillies.
The last time he was at Citi Field and able to pitch, Matz was a great unknown. So were the Mets, who did not have the record or look of a playoff team.
Now, the Mets are 41/2 weeks (or less) from clinching their first playoff spot since 2006, when Matz was a 15-year-old student at Ward Melville.
What he shows between now and Oct. 4 will determine if Matz is going to be a big part of what the Mets hope will be a long postseason run.
Don't bet against it.
"I definitely want to pick up where I left off," Matz said. "I was a little worried about having the time off, losing sharpness, but I feel like I was able to get that back in my rehab stint."
Of course you remember Matz's two big-league starts. He went 72/3 innings and allowed two runs against Cincinnati in front of family and friends on June 28. He also had three hits and drove in four runs. It's hard to imagine anything short of a perfect game being more amazing.
He then pitched six shutout innings against the Dodgers on July 5 in Los Angeles and threw in another RBI. Two starts, two wins, a 1.32 ERA.
"I think he's done pretty well both times," manager Terry Collins said. "He lived up to all the expectations anybody has ever had on him."
Start No. 3 had to wait because of a partial tear of Matz's lat muscle. Then a trip to cool his heels and try to heal in the dead heat of a Florida summer. The hardest part?
"Just the patience part of it," Matz said. "Sitting around in Florida and just doing the tedious rehab stuff. Not being able to throw and stuff . . . It was bittersweet because I had to shut it down after those two outings. Not a lot of fun."
Matz's final rehab start was 51/3 shutout innings for Double-A Binghamton on Monday. The rehab numbers don't matter, though. What matters is that Matz is healthy and ready to allow the Mets to skip Noah Syndergaard this weekend (exact day to be determined) and perhaps Matt Harvey again down the road.
"We think he's going to be OK," Collins said. "We think he's fine. Obviously, with the way he's thrown the ball his last two starts, his command's pretty good. Is he ready to go seven innings? I'm not sure. But that's where the expanded rosters will certainly help us when we've got to put him out there. Give us five or six as best you can. But I think he's going to be fine. I think his stuff speaks for itself."
If Matz has a postseason role, the Mets have said, it will be as a starter.
Jon Niese certainly didn't help his cause to start a playoff game with last night's outing against the Phillies in which he allowed six runs in five innings.
Matz would pitch out of the pen if they asked. Of course he would. But the Mets have bigger plans.
Asked about pitching not only to help the Mets reach the postseason, but also to earn a role if they get there, Matz said: "I'm not even really thinking about that."
He's the only one then.