Steven Matz’s teammates had the Barrio jacket waiting for him when he returned to the Blue Jays dugout for the last time on Friday night. Matz earned the credit by making his best game of the season.
The southpaw turned his longest outing of 2021 – seven innings plus two batters in the eighth – setting the tone for the final series of the regular season. The Jays were one game behind the second wildcard spot in the American League with a 6-4 win over Rogers Center. They still have two games to go, on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s rare for a pitcher from Toronto to be the center of the Jays’ home run celebrations. Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae noted that Robbie Ray is the only other starter to get the coat treatment.
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“That was the best I’ve seen him throw in a long time, just the command, how aggressive he was in the attack zone,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. Matz gave up six basehits, walked one and struckout five. “He had a very good breaking ball. He made it very difficult for our batters.”
Toronto’s offense gave Matz extra time on the mound, as it scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to extend the Jays’ lead to 6-0. There was warming up in the bullpen in the top half as Matz started through the Baltimore order for the third time.
He got through the seventh before giving up a homerun and walk on the eighth. He got out to a standing ovation and then the jacket.
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“It’s what you want to feel going into this time of year,” Matz said, according to the Toronto Star. “It’s October 1, you want to throw in important games. It’s definitely a good feeling. The crowd here is great. You definitely get a little adrenaline boost.”
30-year-old Matz knows a little bit about important games in October: he threw his rookie year with the Mets three times in the postseason; the final appearance was a start in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series.
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His first season with Toronto, which acquired him in an off-season trade with New York, was strong early and late. He went 4-1 in April and 6-1 in his last 12 starts. He posted a career-high 14 wins (the most by a Jays pitcher in five years) and a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts overall. The middle of his season was hit with a positive COVID-19 test.
“I felt good about my stuff today,” Matz said, according to The Associated Press. “Really, the name of the game for me was fastball change-up all year and working on those things. Today I had the curveball too.”
On Friday, Matz was doing so well, throwing only 88 pitches. That means he may still be able to secure a contribution for the regular season. There could be Game 162 for all hands on Sunday – a game that helped Matz make more possible with a stylish performance in Game 160.