SAVANNAH, Ga. — Steven Matz’s professional career did not get off to the start he envisioned when the New York Mets selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
The lanky left-hander had Tommy John surgery in 2010 which caused him to miss the following season. Last year, he was limited to 29 innings at rookie ball and his work was monitored closely this year by the Savannah Sand Gnats. And with good reason.
Matz is one of those prized prospects: a left-hander who can not only throw hard, but also throw strikes.
And when the Sand Gnats needed him to be at his best, that’s just what he was.
Matz turned in the finest pitching performance of his professional career as he was nothing short of sensational. He gave up one hit and faced only 22 batters over seven innings in a 5-0 win over Augusta on Friday night at Grayson Stadium, completing a 2-0 sweep of the GreenJackets in the Southern Division Championship Series.
The Gnats will play for the Class A South Atlantic League championship for the second time in the past three years, as they will take on the winner of the Hagerstown-West Virginia series beginning Monday. That series will be decided in Game 3 tonight.
“This is the biggest game I’ve ever pitched,” said Matz, who had eight strikeouts to no walks. “It was one of those days when I had everything working.
Savannah outscored Augusta 15-2 in the series.
The GreenJackets had only one player reach second base all night, and that was in the third inning when Jesus Galindo singled and stole second. Sand Gnats relievers Paul Sewald and Beck Wheeler preserved the shutout.
The only person happier about Matz’s performance than Matz may have been Gnats pitching coach Frank Viola.
“I’m really proud of him,” Viola said. “He’s a tough kid, and he pitched a beautiful game tonight. We knew he had it in him.
“The best thing about this season was he was able to take the field at the start and end of the season,” Viola said. “Tonight was the epitome of what he can bring. He’s learned a lot this year, and his changeup has really improved.”
Matz finished the regular season with a 5-6 record and a 2.62 ERA which would have been good enough to rank second in the SAL except he was five innings short of qualifying to be ranked.
An excellent example Matz’s dominance came in the sixth inning when he struck out Shawn Payne on a called third strike.
Payne, who played at Georgia Southern, couldn’t have been any more frozen than if he was stranded on an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
The GreenJackets left fielder was looking for anything other than the curveball he got from Matz. Payne looked utterly helpless as the ball dipped past him. It was the same look several of his teammates had as they looked for an answer to the 6-foot-2, 195-pound lefty’s offerings.
That answer never came, and as a result the Gnats play on.