When Braves supervisor Brian Snitker got here out to the mound to take the ball from Luke Jackson and hand it to Tyler Matzek on Saturday night time, it felt as if the recreation — and maybe the collection — had been hanging in the steadiness.
It was the top of the seventh inning, and after shutting down Dodgers hitters all night time in Game 6 of the NLCS, Atlanta had given Los Angeles a gap. A leadoff double by Chris Taylor, a stroll to Cody Bellinger and an RBI double by A.J. Pollock made it a 4-2 recreation. Suddenly, the Dodgers had been a base hit away from tying the recreation with no person out.
Enter Matzek. The flame-throwing southpaw struck out Albert Pujols, struck out Steven Souza Jr. and struck out Mookie Betts, stranding the tying run (Pollock) at second base and shifting the Braves to six outs away from a World Series berth.
Matzek mentioned after the recreation that he hoped to a minimum of strike out the first batter. He felt that if he may simply get that first out, then he may afford to quit a sacrifice fly and probably depart with the lead.
“Luke went in there, he struggled a bit, an unfortunate hit that went down the left-field line (Taylor’s double). He’s gotten me out of those situations plenty of times this season, so it was time for me to repay him,” Matzek mentioned. “It was just being aggressive and doing it for Luke, trying to keep those runs from scoring for him.”
He wasn’t completed after that. Matzek pitched the eighth inning, too, putting out the first batter he confronted earlier than rolling a pair of groundouts in a 1-2-3 body. He put the ball and the pennant in nearer Will Smith’s fingers.
After a 1-2-3 ninth by Smith, Matzek and the Braves had been on their method to the World Series.
This was doubtless not a future many noticed for Matzek a number of years in the past. Prior to the 2020 season, he hadn’t appeared in a big-league recreation since 2015. He had to work his method again from a case of the yips, toiling in the minors and unbiased leagues, earlier than returning to the majors with the Braves.
First-round draft decide
Coming out of highschool in Mission Viejo, Calif., Matzek was considered as one in every of the top prep arms in the 2009 MLB Draft class.
Baseball America ranked him No. 9 total in the class. The Rockies determined he can be their man, taking him eleventh total.
He confirmed quick promise in the minors. Matzek completed his first skilled season with a 2.92 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings over 18 begins at low Single-A in 2010. His 62 walks had been excessive, however that was to be anticipated from a excessive schooler nonetheless studying his craft. Baseball America listed him as No. 23 overall in its 2010 prospect rankings.
Matzek continued to combat with management points in the minors, however he ultimately made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2014. He pitched to a 6-11 file and 4.05 ERA in 117 2/3 innings, with 91 strikeouts and simply 44 walks. He began 2015 in the huge leagues and pitched to a 4.09 ERA in 22 innings, however he walked 19 and struck out simply 15. He was despatched again to the minors on May 8.
According to MLB.com, Matzek found over time that his situation was efficiency nervousness, generally referred to in baseball as the yips.
“When you’re throwing it behind hitters and have no idea where the ball is going as a lefty, that’s usually a pretty good indicator something is wrong,” Matzek mentioned in March 2020. “I feel comfortable now. I feel that is over with. I’m just ready to start this next chapter of my career.”
He was despatched all the method down to short-season Single-A in June 2015. He had surgical procedure at the finish of the yr after which pitched all of 2016 in the minors, proudly owning a 6.75 ERA in 33 appearances — all in aid. He walked 33 batters in 26 2/3 innings. The Rockies reduce him after the season.
Working his method again to the huge leagues
Matzek latched on with two completely different organizations in hopes of reviving his profession. He signed a minor league cope with the White Sox in 2017 however was launched in March and didn’t play that season.
Matzek told The Denver Post that he practically stop baseball as he tried to proceed his profession, and solely his spouse, Lauren, saved pushing him.
“In 2017, when I wasn’t getting picked up by anybody, I was back home in California, playing catch,” Matzek mentioned. “Or rather, I was trying to play catch, throwing the ball all over the place. I basically told Lauren that I was done and that I was going to go back to school. I told her we were going to have to figure out the rest of our lives.”
Matzek mentioned his spouse informed him that she believed in him and that he wanted to hold making an attempt to keep in the recreation.
Matzek signed one other minor league deal early in 2018 with the Mariners however once more was reduce earlier than the season.
He then signed with the Texas AirHogs of the unbiased American Association. He nonetheless struggled in 2018, however he additionally started to enhance. He signed a minor league cope with the Diamondbacks in 2019 however was reduce in May. He returned to the AirHogs on June 9.
A dialog with AirHogs workforce president Billy Martin Jr. satisfied Matzek to attempt the next arm angle, in accordance to The Denver Post.
Matzek mentioned the change helped him to calm down and that he started simply to take into consideration his pitching.
“That one little thing changed my command and my (velocity) — everything,” Matzek informed the Post. “Then I just continued to throw, throw, throw. I think that got the yips out of me.”
The Braves bought his contract on Aug. 15 and despatched him to Double-A Mississippi earlier than shifting him up to Triple-A Gwinnett. Atlanta positioned him on its Opening Day roster in 2020.
Braves’ aid ace
Matzek has made an influence in his return to the huge leagues.
In 2020, he pitched to a 2.79 ERA and a 1.92 FIP in 29 innings. He struck out 35.5 p.c of opposing batters and — maybe most significantly — solely walked 8.3 p.c.
Coming off the COVID-19-shortened season with renewed confidence, Matzek continued to dazzle in 2021, pitching to a 2.57 ERA in 63 innings with a 3.20 FIP. The strikeout fee nonetheless was sterling at 29.2 p.c and his stroll fee a bit greater, however nonetheless manageable, at 14 p.c.
“He’s the reason we’re here. I mean, he just came up in all those clutch moments and, like, there’s just no describing,” NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario informed MLB Network’s Heidi Watney by an interpreter after Game 6. “Every time we needed him he came up for us and he was the key for us out of the bullpen.”
So far this postseason, Matzek has pitched to a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. He has allowed two runs on 4 hits and 4 walks with 17 strikeouts.
Saturday was the first time the 31-year-old Matzek pitched a number of innings this postseason, however he confirmed no points pitching these scoreless frames and taking part in as essential a task as anybody in getting Atlanta to the World Series.
Snitker mentioned he remembered Matzek’s 2020 spring coaching when he was putting batters out however could not bear in mind his title. Now, not too many individuals will neglect it.
“‘What was his name? He wasn’t on the list. Maybe we ought to bring this kid in here,'” Snitker mentioned. “I have so much admiration for him, what he’s been through in his career. There’s another one, it hasn’t been easy for him, either, and he’s had to go back a bunch in order to come forward and how he’s handled all that just amazes me. Just the perseverance and everything this guy’s been through.”