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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Only Yesterday

Steven Matz made his debut for the Mets in June 2015, pitching against the Reds. It didn’t start out ideally — the young lefty from Long Island surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced in the big leagues, Brandon Phillips — but it soon got better. A lot better: Matz doubled in his first big-league plate appearance, grabbing a 2-1 lead for himself, and collected hits his other two times up, including a two-run single that put distance between the Mets and the Reds. Meanwhile, the enthusiastic reactions from his grandfather, Bert Moller, created an instant folk hero.

Matz won, we were all beside ourselves, and why not? Here was a lefty power pitcher with a wipeout arsenal, and as a bonus he apparently could hit, too. And his story was straight out of central casting: a kid from Stony Brook who’d lost two years to Tommy John surgery before throwing a professional pitch, finally getting to make good. Heck, Grandpa Bert had even been a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Honestly, it was perfect.

These are the scenarios the baseball gods concoct to toy with us.

Matz had some very good stretches for the Mets, and did an enormous amount of work for local charities. He also spent a lot of time on the shelf, bedeviled by a run of injuries and surgeries. And there were long runs during which he was on the mound but shy of his vast potential, often struggling to shake off bad luck or teammates’ misplays.

Matz went from prospect to suspect, from bright young thing to question mark. He even got usurped as Local Boy Makes Good, yielding that status to Marcus Stroman, a schoolboy rival from Matz’s high-school days. Then it all came apart in the pandemic season: Matz looked utterly lost, was removed from the Mets’ less-than-stellar starting rotation, and wound up with a 9.68 ERA in nine games. It was over — in January, the Mets traded him to Toronto for Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski. You’re familiar with the first two but might have forgotten about Winckowski, who went to Boston in the three-team deal that brought Khalil Lee to the Mets. Meanwhile, Matz’s Blue Jays career has been a lot like his time in New York: He looked rejuvenated in winning his first four starts but has sort of bumped along since then, mixing good starts with bad.

On Friday night Matz returned to New York and Citi Field, and what followed was something you almost never get: a perfectly calibrated return for an enemy player.

Matz surrendered a two-run bomb to Pete Alonso in the first inning, then gave up nothing else the rest of the way, departing in the sixth with five Ks and that Mets’ 2-0 lead intact. He got the pomp and circumstance reserved for favored sons — tribute video entering, warm ovation exiting. Matz tipped his cap coming and going, something pitchers now largely neglect to do despite the game having become far more demonstrative.

That’s the formula, isn’t it? The guy who used to be our guy but no longer is does well against us … but not well enough. He gets to say nice postgame things leavened with regret about the score; we get to offer up applause that doesn’t sound sarcastic, pitying or grudging.

On the other side of the ball was Tylor Megill, a California kid who arrived in near-total anonymity and has quickly evolved into a mainstay of the starting rotation, which could be faint praise but isn’t. Megill’s shown better stuff than his scouting report promised and a veteran’s even keel, but those things hadn’t translated to a major-league win — to cite an obsolete but stubbornly resonant stat — until Friday. He even got his first hit, though it wasn’t greeted with Grandpa Bert levels of rapture.

The Mets remain cautious in navigating Megill’s third trip through an order — a particularly good idea against the Blue Jays and their murderers’ row of next-generation sluggers. Megill handled them with aplomb and got some help from his defense — an airborne Michael Conforto, a pirouetting J.D. Davis, an alertly scrambling Luis Guillorme. He gave way to Seth Lugo, Trevor May and finally Edwin Diaz, who gave up hard contact but no hits to secure the game.

(Necessary assistance: a second bomb from Alonso, ushered out with entertaining calls on TV and radio. On the radio side, Howie Rose marveled that “this ball’s in orbit!”; on TV, Ron Darling let out a startled, admiring “uh-oh” as the ball rocketed skyward. Oh, and the Mets now have a stuffed horse for home-run celebrations — not quite the Padres’ swag chain, but an amusing addition.)

Players come, players go — that’s the way baseball always has been and always will be. Rookies become veterans in a blink and in another blink they’ve turned into visiting alumni saying a few words on the broadcast. Local heroes wind up with jobs that need passports; newcomers assume their roles and claim our affections. That can be painful, it can be celebratory, it can be a little of both. Either way, it happens, and the participants wind up knit together in all-time rosters and statistical tables, in team lore and most of all in our memories.

10 comments to Only Yesterday

  • Eric

    I’m leery of the Mets trading away Matz based on the outlier COVID-19 season. As it’s turned out, Matz would have helped this season, though perhaps the Mets wouldn’t have resigned (Long Island’s Own though not homegrown) Stroman or signed Walker if Matz was still in the rotation.

    On the other hand, as Jason spells out, the Mets got back fair trade value for Matz in terms of youth and potential. (I wanted to keep Fargas, but I like the Khalil Lee pick-up.) If the Mets want to dig into Cohen’s deep wallet to bring Matz back home, he’s a pending free agent.

    Megill — 2016 Gsellman and Lugo, 2020 Peterson, climbing to 2014 deGrom.

    Davis making a nice play and no obviously bad play in the field, plus Villar and Guillorme holding it down with McNeil and Lindor presumably not too far away, makes me not want to give up valuable assets for Kris Bryant.

  • 9th string catcher

    While strowman wasn’t a decision we could make( do you have the option to come back on his own) very good point about taijuan Walker. More to the point though, Matt’s wouldn’t have been helpful at all. He had lost way too much confidence and it just wasn’t working anymore. Classic cliche of needing a change of scenery has been okay for Matz, but his inconsistency would never be a good thing for the Mets.

    And I absolutely agree that Miguel is this year’s gsellman-Lugo-peterson model.

  • Eric

    9th string catcher,

    With Stroman, the Mets chose to tender the qualifying offer. I agree his QO was pro forma in large part and most likely offered to Stroman independent of Matz’s role with the team.

    Matz’s 2020 season was awful. But again, it was the COVID-19 season. Which is to say it counts, but I don’t write off any player for a poor 2020 season. By the same token, I don’t give normal credit for a good 2020 season, like Conforto or Dom Smith’s.

    Matz was better with the Mets in 2018 and 2019, in line with his 2021 stats. Still underwhelming his potential and hype, Matz is no Wheeler, yet he’s been adequate for a 5th starter. Most importantly Matz has been reliable making his starts, which is what the Mets have needed most from their 5th starter (and ace) this season.

  • Nick

    Matz remains a mystery. He seemed like the second coming of Jon Matlack (the #32 helped) in 2015– I always felt the underrated blunder in the WS was taking him out so early in Game 4 — and then…. What? It was hard not to think the problem was between his ears. He seems like a terrific guy, and it was wonderful to see him get such a nice reception last night.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    A few years ago when the Mets had Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz, the least heralded of the five coming out of the minors was deGrom. In fact, Jacob was slotted behind Rafael Montero. Megill comes to us with no fanfare and no expectations. Could he possibly become the next deGrom?
    And no. I’m not smoking or otherwise ingesting any mind altering substances.

    • greensleeves

      I got a horse right here–his name is Paul Revere…

      Take 3:

      His name was Megill,
      and he called himself Tyl
      but everyone knew him as “this year’s savior”…

  • chuck

    Does anyone not know that the Padres’ chain was stolen from the University of Miami?

  • Eric

    Leaving with a 6-0 lead and then watching the bullpen throw up on itself to lose the game late was very deGrom-ish.

  • open the gates

    For what it’s worth, if we do wind up with a Met pitcher redux, I’d take Matz over Harvey in a heartbeat. (I’d take Zack Wheeler over both of them, but that ain’t happening.)

  • open the gates

    … and, in case you didn’t think there was any good news today, Jerad Eickhoff just opted for free agency. Maybe one day he’ll run in to Chris Schwinden in a bar and they can tell each other some war stories.