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From Mattrocious to Matznificent

We now interrupt our collective, continuing Matt Harvey [1] freakout to note Steven Matz [2] is posting one of the best pitching seasons on the planet.

Yes, Steven Matz. Pay attention to him. Attention must be paid. Ought to be, at any rate.

I could see where you’d overlook him. Matz isn’t the most interesting member of the Met pitching staff. Matz isn’t even the most interesting member of his family. He’s surely no Grandpa Bert in the gesticulation department. Steven Matz may not even be as fascinating as the sandwich that’s named for Steven Matz [3]. I haven’t had the sandwich, but it existed before Matz did in most of our consciousnesses, and I still find that fascinating.

None of this is intended to label Matz dull or boring. His demeanor is calming, his performance electric. We will not worry whether he speaks to the media after his starts. He will, but we won’t care what he has to say. He can leave colorful to his rotationmates.

Here’s what spoke volumes Wednesday afternoon in Washington: eight innings pitched, four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, sixteen batters up and sixteen batters down during one expansive stretch of excellence and no runs allowed at all en route to a 2-0 victory [4] against the first-place (by only half-a-game) archrival Nationals. Matz won his seventh consecutive start, the Mets took the series and, for a day or two, we can forget about Harvey’s travails.

Instead, we can dwell on Matz’s 7-1 record and 2.34 ERA that includes his awful first 2016 outing, one that feels as long ago as the 2013 prime of the Dark Knight. I’d look up how good Steven’s stats would be minus that uncharacteristic April drubbing, but really, how much better than 7-1, 2.34 ERA does a pitcher have to be to attract and maintain our notice?

(I just checked: 7-0, 1.13  ERA. Sweet Jerry Moses!)

We treat Harvey’s shortfalls as breaking news, yet Matz we view as less dog bites man than dog shuffles peaceably alongside man as they wait quietly at the light and cross at the green, not in between. It’s as if a pitcher who never loses is consigned to background noise. Really, Matz transcends “never loses”. In going 7-for-7, he matched a Met mark last mounted by Steve Trachsel [5] in 2006. Trachsel in 2006 was no great shakes. He was luxuriously supported by a high-octane offense while pitching to a 4.43 ERA in his seven straight winning starts. He was OK, but, y’know…he was Steve Trachsel.

As Mets named Steven go, we’ve got the advanced model right here, right now in our star lefty. The latest deluxe feature to be added to the total Matz package is endurance. He’d never gone eight full innings before. To get there at Nationals Park, he had to go through a pinch-hitter named Bryce Harper [6]. There were two out and one on in the eighth. Who were ya gonna call? Jerry Blevins [7]? Yeah, maybe, but why not discern how much mettle the Met from Long Island is packing?

We did. Matz grounded Harper to Matt Reynolds [8] at short and got out of the eighth. Jeurys Familia [9] came on in the ninth, generated a few heebie-jeebies by surrendering back-to-back singles to start the inning, but then settled down to create his own slice of team history: 32 consecutive regular-season save opportunities successfully converted since the last instance he blew one (a rainy afternoon game against the Padres, it is vaguely recalled [10]).

Other than those rare instances where a pitcher does all the hitting and all the hitting — Matz in his debut against the Reds, for example — it takes a village of Mets to raise a W. Familia contributed in Washington. So did David Wright [11] with a first-inning solo homer off Tanner Roark [12]. So did Reynolds, stepping in for a back-spasming Asdrubal Cabrera [13] (the non-Cespedes, non-pitching MVP of this club to date) and collecting his first big league hit. Rene Rivera [14], as stealth an off-season acquisition as could be secretly imagined, delivered an enormous insurance run with his bat and cut down a potential threat with his gun for an arm when he threw out Michael Taylor [15] trying to steal second in the third. Daniel Murphy [16] also chipped in with a key error…oh wait, he’s with the other guys now, but he did help the Mets win.

I wouldn’t want to slight any Met or ex-Met who aided the greater good Wednesday, but I also don’t want to deflect too much of the spotlight from Matz, who deserves to bask in the glow of some serious accomplishments. Musslessly, fusslessly, professionally, he is consistently pitching at a level unattained by any of his rotationmates this season. Never mind the Dark Knight. Not even Thor the Norse God has unfurled quite the kind of roll the pride of Suffolk County is on [17].

Mind you, the Mets are in a race with the Nationals, not a contest with each other. We want every one of our golden boys to go to the mound every fifth day and never lose (including the onetime pacesetter who’s sort of out of fashion of late [18]). But since one Met pitcher is living up to that description more than any other, let’s shove him front and center for a spell. For a refreshing change, let’s not be about Harvey who isn’t getting it done. Let’s be about Matz who is barely getting touched.