Previously on The Mets…
“Eleven in a row! This is the year, baby!”
“Oh no. Who’s hurt now?”
“Sure, the pitching’s great, but they can’t score to save their lives.”
“They’re never gonna win another game, are they?”
“We’re making a roster move and adjusting our rotation accordingly.”
“We don’t need another pitcher. We need a bat.”
“He’s from around here, you know. Grew up a big fan. And they say he can hit a little.”
“I can’t believe they’re gonna try playing through this rain. I’m soaked!”
“Suspended? What does that mean? And what about the concert?”
“He debuts tomorrow. Right after they finish yesterday’s game…whenever that is.”
And now: The Mets.
Rain, rain didn’t go away so easily. It wasn’t Saturday in the park rain, but it was present as Sunday at Citi Field began. Or continued. Not sure why I bothered going home in between. Not sure why I didn’t bring a full-fledged jacket when I returned. Not sure why I put so much stock in it being late June when it feels only nominally summery out there.
Joe and I chose this game long ago for no particular reason beyond prospective convenience. Its curiosity factor — off the charts as of Sunday morning — didn’t exist when he asked me if I wanted to go on June 28 and I said sure. Who knew it would loom as an idiosyncratic’s delight? They were ending a game that began the day before; they were beginning a career from scratch; they were presenting the architects of three No. 1 hit records, for goodness sake. All we were expecting to reach out and grab were Lucas Duda  Growth Charts and all we were hoping for was to maybe not get so wet.
We got our charts. The wetness seemed predestined until a text from another friend offered an overhang. Sharon had cleverly rainchecked (from an “official game,” no less) her way into six dry seats. It might not rain all day Sunday as it did Saturday, but why find out? Joe and I accepted the gracious invitation to avoid unfriendly skies. Turned out we wouldn’t have been more than aggressively misted upon. After Saturday, though, who needed it? My schlep bag is still damp from that downpour.
There was indeed a game to complete, the one from the steady deluge. After a slight precipitation delay, it was offered to us almost cheekily. A ceremonial first pitch was thrown out even though we were picking up the action in the seventh inning. The national anthem was sung, too. Had Bobby Valentine  been in the visitors’ dugout, he would have threaded a needle through the rule book and found the Met in violation of some sort of strict midgame protocol. Bryan Price  was in the visitors’ dugout. Bryan Price has bigger problems. Bryan Price manages the Reds.
The Reds considered scoring in the top of the resumed seventh but ultimately rejected the concept as incompatible with their brand. They came pretty close anyway. It took three relievers — including both Tsuris brothers — to quell their advances. Then we seventh-inning stretched (more cheekiness). Then Skip Schumaker  stretched as far as he cold to rob Ruben Tejada  of a double in the left field corner. Then Skip Schumaker unstretched Lucas Duda’s double into a single and a 7-4 putout. The sun would make cameos, yet Skip Schumaker emerged as Sunday’s version of rain.
And on these nudnik teams went. One could credit more defense and bullpen as stringent preventors of tallies, but one chooses not to. The Saturday leftovers were growing stale. The novelty was fading. The suspended game was making a nuisance of itself. It was great for fans of pop flies specifically and offensive futility in general. Also, if you liked the idea that time keeps on slippin, slippin’ into the future, it was ideal. If you didn’t like the idea of everything you were waiting for getting pushed back, this wasn’t your game.
Unless you were there, in which case it was all yours. Unlike me, Joe wasn’t there Saturday, and that fact confronted him with a conundrum. Joe scores every game he goes to. Sunday he was going. Saturday’s six innings were going to be there to greet him. How could a fiercely committed scorer start scoring a game in the middle of the action? Joe did the only sensible thing he could do, the sensible thing I guessed he would do after knowing him some 25 years. He retrofitted his scorebook with the six innings he hadn’t originally scored so he could set the stage for the seventh, eighth and ninth and any extra innings that happened to amble along through the mist.
Amble they did. The Mets didn’t score in the ninth when, with two on and two out, Michael Cuddyer  remained under contract to the team that signed him last November. The Reds’ scouting report, the one that suggested, “pitch to Michael Cuddyer every chance you get — even if you’re playing someone other than the Mets or a sport other than baseball” — proved prescient.
Hey, whaddaya know: extras! The Reds threaten in the tenth, but don’t make good. The Mets use John Mayberry  in the tenth to ensure an eleventh.
Let’s make like Schumaker and skip over the eleventh and twelfth. Suffice it to say they transpired and resulted in a thirteenth inning, thus ensuring more of Saturday’s game took place on Sunday than it did on Saturday. Because the Mets can’t hit, they were stuck on one run. Because the Reds can’t cope, they allowed the Mets to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the thirteenth. It was a rally for the ages; a rally for this age, at any rate. Dilson Herrera  walked. Curtis Granderson  singled past an inadequate Brandon Phillips  leap. Ruben Tejada grounded to a shortstop who looked less comfortable than Wilmer Flores .
Duda from the growth chart was up. Dozens of growth charts got themselves unfolded, waved and mysteriously hung from the rafters (who thought to bring so much Fun-Tak to a ballpark?) The positive energy was too much for Joey Votto  to bear, for when Lucas bounced unto him the absolutely perfect ball to fire home to force Herrera, thereby setting up Cuddyer’s inevitable inning-ending DP, he instead muffed it like crazy. Votto — who had earlier performed as a Bill Buckner  tribute band called E-3 when he let a Granderson grounder scoot through his generous legs — couldn’t handle the bounce and the Mets, in spite of themselves and their 0-for-15 RISP inaction, won. They won Saturday’s game Sunday . They won despite scoring no more than two runs in thirteen innings, no more than two runs apiece across three games. Hell, they won each of those three games, all in a row.
Idiosyncratic, all right. And by the time Sunday’s baseball activities were concluded, those thirteen innings and the twenty-four hours at Le Mets that preceded them would be, if not totally forgotten, then mightily obscured.
Because we were ready to be formally introduced to our latest savior.
I figured Steven Matz  would be bringing loads of family to the actual Sunday game for his major league debut. But who were all these other people wearing MATZ 32 tees before he’d thrown one pitch at this highest baseball level? They were, I decided, people who have been conditioned to expect deliverance in the form of one young arm after another. Such thinking has provided the subtext of the past four seasons, including the current edition.
We can’t wait for Harvey until we can’t we wait for Wheeler until we can’t wait for Syndergaard, not to mention we at least modestly anticipated the arrival of deGrom and Montero, though we’ve revised history a little to claim we had no idea the former existed (and we’ve lately lost track of the latter). We believe every morsel of hype fed to us where young pitchers are concerned. Every one of them will rise to the majors and succeed immediately. Then we’ll have too many pitchers, all of them great. The excess will be so obvious to all that somebody somewhere will be compelled to send us a low-cost power-hitting infielder who can actually field.
Funny how no trade is ever made and we can never concretely determine how much pitching is enough. We know we can’t have too many saviors, though. Never mind that pitching we’ve got and hitting we need. You can never have too much pitching. It’s why among our eight or so outstanding starters, one is on the DL, one is in Las Vegas and one has been grafted onto a rotation that seemed to have no vacancies.
But you can always make room for a savior. You can always find space in your t-shirt drawer for a MATZ 32. After Sunday, they’re not going to be able to make enough of those models to satisfy demand.
Who says the Mets never produce a hitter? They produced Steven Matz, perhaps the most productive hitter ever to come out of any box, certainly the best to emerge from a box marked pitcher.
He’s not misfiled, either. Pitching is clearly what got him here. Hitting, however, is why we will always cherish his maiden appearance in the big leagues.
Sunday’s de facto second game wasn’t necessarily poised from its late-afternoon first pitch to feel any different from those contests that had directly preceded it. We’d gotten so used to stellar starting pitching that we were only marginally impressed by it. What really got our attention, not to mention our goat, was the invisible hitting. We weren’t overjoyed that we’d just won games by scores of 2-0, 2-1 and 2-1; we were miffed that we couldn’t score more than two runs in any of those games. What good is winning if only some of your dreams are coming true?
Thus, we decided Steven Matz’s first game was, regardless of the savior possibilities inherent, an act of desperation. No matter what the kid does, it’s not like we’re gonna hit. And it’s not like we really know for certain what the kid’s gonna do.
Then we knew: he’d throw a terribly wild pitch to commence his career and moments later surrender a short, replay-certified home run to Phillips, the best Shea Stadium/Citi Field player who ever lived. The Reds were ahead, 1-0, after one batter; Matz’s ERA dwarfed Garrett Olson’s franchise-worst 108.00 ; and the 999th Met in team history might not save us from ourselves after all.
Or he might. We’d have to give him his entire start in order to find out.
This is what we found out about Steven Matz after he fell behind by a run.
• He’s a better pitcher than Garrett Olson. Way better. His ERA clambered down from unmeasurable to manageable to sparkling…if, in fact, an ERA can be said to matter after one game. Except for one pitch that Todd Frazier  launched definitively over the left field fence, Matz did nothing wrong on the mound. He got out of what little trouble did arise, he fielded batted balls cleanly and he showed poise and command into the eighth. If his debut wasn’t the stuff of Dick Rusteck  (still the only Met to pitch a complete game shutout in his first MLB appearance), it was right up there with Harvey’s and Wheeler’s and so forth. He belongs.
• He’s a better hitter than probably every one of his teammates, no matter any individual’s job description. It might not last — it probably won’t because it almost never does when the hitter is a pitcher — but have you ever seen a rookie come to bat and bring home runners like Matz did? Don’t bother sorting through phenoms past. You haven’t, within the realm of one-game sample sizes, seen a new Met like Matz at bat ever. He recorded three hits, drove in four runs, broke up a double play and…what? What else do you need, besides a revised lineup card next time he pitches, because how on earth do you justify batting someone of Matz’s potential and/or credentials behind the Mets’ relentless parade of eight-hitters? Booming double; well-placed singles; situational alertness; not bothering with batting gloves, even. Holy Don Robinson , this pitcher gave us the idea he can hit with the best of them and convinced us he can outhit the worst of them (a.k.a. the rest of the Mets’ batting order).
• He’s a happening. He’s a happening because he brought 130 friends and family from Suffolk County and because he’s been working his way back from Tommy John  so long that the general manager who drafted him was Omar Minaya and because his favorite adolescent baseball memory involves Endy Chavez  and he’s 24 yet looks 14 and he knows to professionally tip his cap when thunderously applauded and he lived up to every expectation we had for him and he built new expectations along the way and he exceeded those. We who were grumpy from a lack of offense even after Duda’s growth charts flapped victoriously roared without reservation for Steven Matz. We were holding out for a hero. We received a folk hero.
• He’s proof, as if we needed any more, that the designated hitter rule belongs on the ash heap of history. If, say, Cuddyer as hypothetical DH had gone 3-for-3, we might be curious what kind of hallucinogenics they were using at Blue Smoke, but we wouldn’t otherwise be terribly moved beyond vague approval. But Matz going 3-for-3? The pitcher? Never mind the Colon sideshow. This is a pitcher not just helping his own cause. This is a pitcher defining the cause. Let other pitchers pray for run support. Matz answered everybody’s prayers before they could be formulated.
How sophisticated do we all feel in the moment a pitcher makes solid contact? Look at me, I know enough to treat this event as extraordinary. How stimulated does that sensation leave us? The pitcher swings…the pitcher hits…the pitcher runs…the pitcher is on first…maybe second. Oh god…oh god…OH GOD!
Seriously, witnessing a pitcher truly fill the role of hitter may be the closest thing baseball has to adult entertainment.
Every National Leaguer’s soul soared when Matz connected and reached base for a third time. Every one of us knew we had found the silver bullet to refute every silly argument to be made for not letting the pitcher hit. If the pitcher didn’t hit, then all we would have had out of Steven Matz was an encouraging outing presumably going to waste because — oh, by the way — the rest of the Mets continued to mostly not hit in that second game Sunday. With Matz pitching and Matz hitting and Matz doing it all, the Mets discovered a run total higher than two and a win streak that reached four .
It helped that the Reds are brutal. It helped that their scouting reports didn’t factor in Matz’s hitting ability. It helped that they’ve been playing shabby baseball for close to a year. It helps, too, that the Mets are as dependably able at Citi Field as they are astoundingly inept away from it.
But mostly Steven Matz helped himself and helped us all and it was only his beginning.
Poor Steve Miller. Rained out. Postponed. Rescheduled. Abandoned. Maybe 2,000 of us remained to watch him and his band perform postgame. The Mets showed this rock and blues legend so little respect that while he sang, the ribbon board flashed an ad for the Heart postgame concert next month, as if that’s the one you should stick around for. They couldn’t have waited until the act they’d been plugging for months had unplugged their instruments?
If they felt like afterthoughts, they didn’t show it. Fifty minutes, a dozen songs, solid musicianship, two band members wearing Mets jerseys, enough relevant patter to assure you they weren’t mailing it in. Steve Miller dedicated “Abracadabra” to “Stevie Matz” for all the “magic’ he made before they came on, though if you think about it, “Swingtown” would have been more appropriate. Mr. Miller even told us we were going to the World Series, presumably on a big ol’ Met airliner.
We probably have to start winning some games on the road first. Gosh, I hope Matz travels as well as he hits