Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Steven Matz looks well-suited for October baseball as he spins a gem for Blue Jays

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Steven Matz’s teammates had the Barrio Jacket waiting for him as he returned to the Blue Jays’ dugout for the final time Friday night. Matz earned the honor by fashioning his best game of the season.

The left-hander turned in his longest outing of 2021 — seven innings plus two batters in the eighth — and set the tone for the final series of the regular season. The Jays remained one game out of the second American League wild-card spot with a 6-4 victory at Rogers Centre. They have two games remaining, on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s rare for a Toronto pitcher to don what is the centerpiece of the Jays’ home run celebrations. Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae noted that Robbie Ray is the only other starter to have gotten the jacket treatment.

MORE: Scenarios, tiebreakers entering final weekend

“That was the best I’ve seen him throw in a long time, just the command, how aggressive he was in the strike zone,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. Matz allowed six hits, walked one and struck out five. “He had a really good breaking ball. He made it really tough on our hitters.”

Toronto’s offense bought Matz extra time on the mound as it scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to stretch the Jays’ lead to 6-0. There was warmup action in the bullpen in the top half as Matz began to go through the Baltimore order a third time.

He got through the seventh before allowing a home run and a walk to lead off the eighth. He exited to a standing ovation and then the jacket.

MORE: Why the Jays would be the scariest team to face in playoffs

“It’s what you want to feel, going into this time of the year,” Matz said, per the Toronto Star. “It’s Oct. 1, you want to be pitching in important games. It’s definitely a good feeling. The crowd is awesome here. You definitely get a little adrenalin boost.”

The 30-year-old Matz knows a little bit about important games in October: He pitched three times in the postseason his rookie year with the Mets; the last appearance was a start in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series.

MORE: Updated bracket, magic numbers

His first season with Toronto, which acquired him in an offseason trade with New York, was strong early and late. He went 4-1 in April and 6-1 in his last 12 starts. He recorded a career-high 14 wins (most by a Jays pitcher in five years) and a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts overall. The middle of his season was affected by a positive COVID-19 test.

“I felt good about my stuff today,” Matz said, per The Associated Press. “Really, the name of the game all year for me has been fastball-changeup and working off that stuff. Today I had the curveball going as well.”

Things were going so well for Matz on Friday, he threw just 88 pitches. That means he might be able to squeeze in one more regular-season contribution. There could be an all-hands Game 162 on Sunday — a game Matz helped to make more possible with a stylish performance in Game 160.

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