By AJ Cassavell and Troy Provost-Heron
MLB.com |@AJCassavell |
NEW YORK -- For 7 1/3 innings Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, Mets rookie left-hander Steven Matz chased history. Instead, he settled for the best start of his young career in the midst of a fierce National League Wild Card race.
A dominant Matz held the Padres hitless until the eighth inning in a 5-1 Mets victory. That's when Alexei Ramirez smacked a clean one-out single, which somehow stayed inside the first-base line and ended Matz's bid to join Johan Santana as the only pitchers in franchise history to record a no-hitter.
"I wasn't disappointed at all," Matz said. "We were up 2-0 [at the time] and this is about team wins in the big leagues, so that's really where my focus was."
By the time Ramirez's single caromed off the wall in foul territory, Mets skipper Terry Collins had already made up his mind that Matz's day was done. The 25-year-old southpaw was sitting on 105 pitches, coming off a start in which he threw a career-high 120. Matz, who finished with eight strikeouts and two walks over 7 1/3 scoreless frames, exited to a raucous ovation.
"I was hoping he was getting to the ninth inning with the no-hitter," Collins said. "I wanted to see the energy in the crowd. ... I would've liked to see what happened."
Relievers Addison Reed and Gabriel Ynoa sealed the deal, as the Mets remained 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot. It marked the first time the Mets have won consecutive games since July 6-7. Wilmer Flores' second-inning homer gave Matz an early lead, and Neil Walker tacked on a solo dinger of his own in the fourth. The Mets put the game away with three insurance runs in the eighth, two of which came on a double by T.J. Rivera for the rookie's first career RBIs.
The homers were the only runs allowed by Clayton Richard, who made his first start since signing with the Padres eight days ago. The veteran left-hander, who was released by the Cubs in July, needed 74 pitches -- one shy of his limit -- to get through five innings. He was relatively sharp, surrendering three hits and three walks, but it was Matz's day.
"He was so good today, you have to tip your cap sometimes," Richard said. "This is a time where you need to."
"He got ahead, pounded the strike zone with good fastballs and executed his offspeed," Padres catcher Derek Norris said of Matz. "That's what all the hype's about, I guess."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Back on track: To begin the season, Matz was on top of his game, going 7-1 -- earning each of those wins during a seven-start stretch that spanned from April 17 to May 25 -- with a 2.36 ERA. Since then, though, concerns about a bone spur in his left elbow and inconsistency on the mound made that early stretch seem like a distant memory. Entering play on Sunday, Matz had posted a 4.34 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, but the left-hander took the first step toward putting his recent struggles behind him vs. San Diego. More >
Fair's fair: After grounding out to short in his first two at-bats, Ramirez fell behind in the count 1-2 in the eighth. Then Matz made his first mistake of the day, leaving a fastball over the middle of the plate that Ramirez sprayed to right.
"Ultimately, it just caught some of the plate," Ramirez said. "I was just going out there trying to have a normal at-bat, and he was going with his sinker, throwing his curveball as well, mixing it up. He tried to throw a fastball outside, and it caught a little bit too much of the plate. I was just looking to make contact." More >
Stay hot: After enduring a 4-for-46 (.087) stretch from July 4-26, Walker has rebounded to become the hottest hitter in baseball since July 27, and that continued on Sunday with his home run in the fourth. Over his last 18 games, the Mets' second baseman has hit .444 (32-for-72) -- the highest average in the Majors over that span (minimum 35 at-bats) -- with five home runs and 13 RBIs.
Sixth man of the year: When Richard took the hill, it marked the unofficial beginning of the Padres' temporary six-man rotation. With 16 games in 16 days, San Diego called on Richard to help ease some of the workload on its young starting pitchers. It's doubtful the Friars use the six-man staff past the current stretch, but Richard could very well cement a starting job during that time.
"It may have been a while since he started, but he's been around long enough to know what he needs to do," said Norris. "... He's talented, he's got some funky mechanics that guys have a tough time picking up. That's what we hoped to see from the guy, and that's why we like him."
"He was down when he wanted to be, he located well -- we didn't do much of anything against him. Until Alexei hit that ball we didn't really square anything up at all. It was just one of those days where he was substantially better than us." -- Padres manager Andy Green, on Matz
With one away in the first inning, Travis Jankowski tried to steal third base, but was thrown out by catcher Rene Rivera. The Padres opted to challenge the play, but the call on the field stood after a review.
WHAT'S NEXT Padres:Wil Myers returns to St. Petersburg on Monday for the first time since being dealt to the Padres in December 2014. The slugging first baseman played his first two seasons with the Rays and earned American League Rookie of the Year Award honors in 2013. Sinkerballer Luis Perdomo starts for San Diego, with first pitch from Tropicana Field at 4:10 p.m. PT. More >
Mets:Bartolo Colon will start for the Mets as they begin a three-game set against the D-backs at Chase Field on Monday at 9:40 p.m. ET. Arizona remains the only club the 43-year-old right-hander has yet to defeat in his 19-year career.