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Steven Matz settled down with poise of big-league veteran

Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen congratulates Mets starting

Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen congratulates Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz after the 7-2 win against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on Sunday, June 28, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

To put this day into words, for Steven Matz, was impossible. What could he say to make us understand the emotions of a Long Island kid, standing on the mound at Citi Field, wearing a Mets uniform, living a dream that only a tiny fraction get to realize in their own backyard?

Think about it for a second. How would you feel?

After a day that had to be seen to be believed, we asked Matz plenty of questions, trying to bottle what was going on inside him, hoping to connect with a moment that everyone will be talking about for a long time.

Truth is, that can't really be explained in a few sentences. To get an idea of what was surging through Matz as he wound up for that first pitch to Brandon Phillips Sunday, just take a look at where it went.

The pitch was a 96-mph fastball, and catcher Johnny Monell barely got his glove on it.

Matz, a prospect with expert control, couldn't contain the adrenaline. There was no radar gun to measure this. He was off the charts. "I was telling myself to just take it easy," he said. "And it still almost sailed to the backstop."

Heart still pounding, Matz tried to steer the next two pitches over the plate and they didn't come close. After a called strike, his fifth pitch was a 95-mph two-seam fastball that Phillips belted off the railing of the leftfield Party Deck for a home run.

The Citi crowd that had been screaming for Matz was upset. The fans who gave him a standing ovation during his pregame walk from the bullpen were shaken. But not Matz. He felt better.

The worst possible outcome, and yet his pulse slowed. It was easier to breathe. First batter, first hit, first homer, down 1-0.

OK. Time to go to work.

From there, Matz looked as if he had been pitching in the majors for five years, not five minutes. The knee-locking curve, the disappearing changeup. Carving the edges of the strike zone with a mid-90s fastball.

With his family watching from Suite 221, situated high above home plate -- and more friends behind the dugout in No. 32 jerseys -- it was as if Matz were back pitching for Ward Melville High.

"He was ready to show that he belonged in the big leagues," Terry Collins said. "And he did that today."

You'd think it would be enough to worry about Phillips, Votto, Frazier and Bruce. Taking his turns in the batter's box should have been an afterthought, a few excuse-me swings before returning to the mound, where his real job was.

But not to Matz, who used those three trips to whip Citi Field into a frenzy. He had three hits, including a two-run double over Billy Hamilton's head. Matz also became the first Met to drive in four runs in his debut and only the 11th player in the last century to pair it with three hits.

Matz didn't hesitate in saying the double was his favorite part of a truly amazing day. But we don't want to overlook what he did on the mound after the suspended game pushed him all the way to a 4:38 p.m. start.

"It wasn't too bad," Matz said. "Good thing is, it's a big-league clubhouse. You have comfortable couches."

After Matz finally did get out there, Collins eventually came to retrieve him with two outs in the eighth inning. And Matz left to another standing ovation before more high-fives from his teammates.

Later, in the clubhouse, Matz was told he had received a congratulatory text from Omar Minaya, who drafted him in 2009. He was handed the baseballs from his first hit and first strikeout, along with the bat and lineup card.

Matz stuffed one of the balls in his back pocket, then carried the rest with his left hand as he slowly headed for the door, almost 12 hours after he arrived. We can understand why he didn't want this day to end.


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