Stomping Grounds: High school matchup drew unprecedented attention
By Joe Trezza
NEW YORK -- Long before they profiled as postseason starting pitchers, Mets lefty Steven Matz and Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman faced off in what Long Islanders now call the most notable high school baseball game in recent memory.
The date was April 16, 2009, and when those Long Islanders talk about it, a few details remain ambiguous. Some, like Stroman's coach Anthony Frascogna, recall it being an "overcast day, one of those early-spring baseball days," that call for windbreakers and enough luck that the skies don't open. Lou Petrucci, Matz' coach at Ward Melville High, recounts it as "a beautiful day for baseball." Unsurprisingly, Petrucci is the one that shortly afterwards adds, "and it was even more beautiful that we won."
This is how legends work, growing and permutating with the stature of their protagonists. Six years later, Stroman and Matz have been important pieces for Major League teams looking to squash significant October demons. But when they met that day, they were former teammates opposing one another for the first time.
What resulted served as a climactic point of the opening act of both their careers -- an epic 1-0 game at Patchogue-Medford High that drew fans and scouts in record numbers and still has them talking.
"I've been in the business for 34 years," said Larry Izzo, the Mets scout that eventually signed Matz. "And this was one of the best duels I've ever seen."
There is no denying some of the numbers. They pass the test of time, popping out in black ink of Frascogna's worn scorebook to this day. Stroman notched 14 strikeouts, walked none and threw a three-hitter. Matz struck out 12, walked four and allowed one hit, emerging victorious after Ward Melville scored the game-winning run on -- what else? -- a dropped Stroman strikeout.
All this in front of an unprecedented audience for Suffolk County, an area that typically produces just a handful of Major Leaguers each decade.
"From dugout to dugout," Petrucci said, "there was a scout from every Major League team. For early April on Long Island, that's unheard of. It's never happened."
The horde of scouts -- 54, by one count -- watched Matz and Stroman match one another pitch for pitch. Both hit 93 mph with their fastballs. Both went hitless against the other. Both cemented their place as the prime prospects in the region with dominating performances.
After Matz struck out one of Frascogna's players on an 82-mph changeup, the coach approached the angry victim. "Look," Frascogna said. "There are two people in the country that are going to hit that pitch right now. You're certainly not one of them, so just relax."
"It was more of a showcase," Frascogna remembers. "The outcome was secondary to the show."
Matz and Stroman were born about 15 miles apart, and had been teammates on local summer teams like the Paveco Storm for years. Come their senior years, both pitched on Thursdays -- Stroman so he could play shortstop by the end of the weekend, Matz so he could play first.
In fact, Izzo first heard of Matz via a recommendation from his longtime friend Ed Mathis, who was scouting for the Dodgers. Mathis liked Matz's swing and glove at first base.
"And I hear," Mathis told Izzo, "he is a very good pitcher, too."
Two months after the duel, Washington drafted Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall. New York took Matz in the second round, leaving behind his scholarship to Coastal Carolina to sign for $895,000. Stroman was drafted in the 18th round by Washington, but attended Duke University. The Blue Jays made him the No. 22-overall pick in 2012 and signed him for $1.8 million.
"I hope it shows that players can come from the Northeast," Stroman said. "We had baseball in our blood. It's cool to see some of your buddies pan out."
Both reached the Majors before their 25th birthdays, and now both have the potential to play big October roles. The rookie Matz went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts before dealing with a nagging back injury. Stroman returned from knee surgery to post a 1.67 ERA in four starts down the stretch for Toronto, which won its first American League East title since 1993.
"I played with Steven since I was probably 8 or 9 years old," Stroman said before his Game 2 ALDS start. "He was on every single one of my travel teams all growing up. … He's battled that injury since 2009, and just to see that he is back, healthy, contributing to a playoff team, it's special.
"And the fact that he's a hometown guy right by where I grew up makes it even better. His family's best friends with my family and couldn't be more proud of him."
Say the stars start aligning. Then every inch further the Mets and Blue Jays push into October would ratchet up the anticipation for a possible Matz-Stroman rematch. And for those who witnessed their dizzying first encounter, blur that day more and more into myth.
"There were about 1,500 people there," said Petrucci. "But as those two get bigger and bigger, that number will probably jump to 15,000."
Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.