Sorry, TC. Not to take any shine off Sunday’s brilliant performance by Steven Matz, or your badly needed 5-1 victory over the Padres. The crew in the ’86 racing stripes put on a great show for the shvitzing crowd of 26,612 at Citi Field (first-pitch temp: 96 degrees).
But when Terry Collins said during his postgame news conference that he wanted Matz to have the no-hitter intact entering the ninth inning? No offense, Terry. We’re not buying it.
No manager chooses to welcome that degree of agita, and definitely not Collins, who still has the ghost of Johan Santana haunting his conscience.
Don’t believe us? Well, the manager brought up Santana’s name — unsolicited — when asked about his decision-making process for the late innings.
Collins had planned to let Matz pitch the ninth, provided the eighth went smoothly. With one critical caveat, however.
“I wasn’t going to visit the Johan Santana scenario again,” Collins said. “I can tell you that.”
Ah, yes. The Santana scenario, also known by its more joyous designation: the first and only no-hitter in Mets history. But like far too many occurrences with New York’s National League club and its fan base, every morsel of enjoyment must be traded for something that hurts equally as much — or 100 times that.
And for those a little hazy on the Santana scenario, we’ll give you a quick refresher. In a move that Collins seems to regret to this day, he allowed Santana — coming off shoulder surgery — to throw 134 pitches on that memorable June 1, 2012 night at Citi. Collins openly wept afterward, perhaps realizing what he had done. Santana made 10 starts the remainder of that season and went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA. He has never pitched in a major-league game since.
Matz, 25, is eight years younger than Santana was then. And healthier, despite pitching with a sizable, irritating bone spur in his left elbow that is going to require surgery at season’s end. But Collins still has the same responsibility to protect his players, and as thrilling as it was for all of us to see Matz dominate the Padres, inning after inning, he has a different perspective.
Of course he’d love to see Matz, one of the franchise’s prized young arms, make history, but he’s got to think bigger than that. Who among us can accurately say where the danger zone is for Matz? Collins can’t pinpoint it exactly. Nor can his pitching coach, Dan Warthen, who probably knows Matz better, from a pitching standpoint, than any other person on the planet.
This is all an inexact science, and who really believes that Collins, given everything else he has to worry about, would want to cannonball into that ninth-inning quicksand? It’s a no-win situation for him, and the manager picked up on the warning signs early.
Once Matz made it through the fifth inning with 66 pitches, Collins figured he might be in trouble. “Oh [cripes]!” he said he thought to himself. “Here we go again.”
Matz was headed for Santana territory. Dominant, but with an escalating pitch count moving at the ideal speed to be a problem. Had Matz been slightly more laborious, he would have run out of gas far too soon. Any more efficient, and that would have kept him safely under the threshold. But Collins wasn’t that lucky.
As positive as it was for the no-no bid, we thought Collins was doomed when Matz cruised through the seventh on only nine pitches, his fewest of any inning, bringing him to 95 overall. At that point, we imagined Collins crawling under his office desk, in a fetal position. Matz, who threw 120 pitches in his previous start, was on pace for about 110 going into the ninth — the perfect storm for a manager these days.
Until one out in the eighth inning, when Alexei Ramirez punched pitch No. 105, a 2-and-2 sinker, for a one-hop grounder that split the first-base bag for a single. How relieved was Collins? Ramirez had barely reached first before the manager was race-walking to the mound to fetch Matz.
Pressed later on what his maximum was for Matz, the manager flashed a wide grin.
“Who knows? Collins said.
Just the way he preferred it.