Tyler Matzek makes name for himself in leading Braves to World Series

ATLANTA — Tyler Matzek stood alone on the infield grass late Saturday evening, listening to the sellout crowd nonetheless roaring, Braves teammates and relations hugging each other, attempting to know what simply occurred.

Matzek was out of baseball 4 years in the past. He was dwelling in an RV three years in the past, pitching for the Texas AirHogs of the Unbiased American Affiliation, and he was begging two years in the past for some crew to convey him to their major-league spring coaching camp.

Now, right here he was placing on a spectacular reduction efficiency and main the Braves to the World Collection for the primary time since 1999 with a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched two innings and struck out 4 with out giving up a baserunner.

It’s a disgrace that normal supervisor Alex Anthopoulos missed it, revealing afterward that he by no means watched a single pitch by Matzek.

Fellow reliever Luke Jackson heard the group noise, however he was sitting slumped on the bench, together with his fingers over his face, and he was afraid to look, too.

Braves supervisor Brian Snitker a minimum of was watching, however he disclosed {that a} yr in the past final summer season, he couldn’t keep in mind Matzek’s title.

Atlanta Braves reliever Tyler Matzek (68) reacts after hanging out three batters with runners in scoring place within the seventh inning of the NLCS.

Welcome to Matzek’s world.

“I’m nonetheless having hassle believing all of it myself,” Matzek mentioned. “I imply, to come back from the place I’ve, and to be doing this, it’s simply loopy.’’

If he’s dreaming, please, no matter you do, don’t wake him up.

Whereas Eddie Rosario was the NLCS MVP together with his .560 batting common and Freddie Freeman was the focus, Matzek merely saved Atlanta’s season.

“It’s mind-blowing what he simply did,” Jackson mentioned. “Completely mind-blowing. Typically, you see a man step as much as the stage in large moments. Effectively, he took the stage and introduced it out with him on the mound. I’ve by no means seen something prefer it.”

Atlanta was on its option to blowing the sport within the seventh inning when Jackson gave up a double, a stroll, double as its 4-1 lead shrunk to 4-2. There have been runners on second and third with nobody out when Matzek was summoned from the bullpen.

“I believed perhaps if I may hold them to 1 run, on a fly ball or one thing, I’d be okay,” Matzek mentioned. “Actually, that’s all I used to be pondering, attempting to restrict the injury.”

Future Corridor of Famer Albert Pujols was first up, and he struck out on 4 pitches, the final an 85-mph slider. Steven Souza went down on 4 pitches, too, taking a look at a 99-mph fastball. Former MVP Mookie Betts checked out two 97-mph fastballs for strikes after which swung and missed at a 98-mph fastball.

Three up, three strikeouts, 11 pitches.

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Similar to that, Matzek grew to become the primary pitcher in postseason historical past to strike out three consecutive batters in the identical inning with runners on second and third.

“It’s acquired to be one of many biggest pitching performances there’s ever been within the postseason,” Freeman mentioned. “That was unbelievable. In the event that they rating, they’re beginning to be ok with themselves. The actual fact they didn’t, that was an enormous deflator proper there.”

The gang at Truist Park exploded with euphoria whereas Matzek screamed proper together with them.

And when the group screamed, so did Anthopoulos, who was sitting alone in his workplace, unable to look at.

Anthopoulos, you see, hates watching video games when his pitching workers is on the mound. He sits in his workplace chair, and he listens for the group earlier than he peeks at his cellphone.

“I really didn’t watch a single pitch (Matzek) threw,” Anthopoulos mentioned. “After we pitch, I strive to not watch?’’

You’re kidding, proper?

“No, it’s simply one thing that organically has developed over time,” he mentioned. “It’s simply simpler to deal with, actually.”

Says Snitker: “It’s unbelievable. We had an extra-inning recreation on our final street journey to San Diego, and he mentioned he needed to clear his closet as a result of he couldn’t take the stress. I’m pondering, ‘Clear your closet?’ I want I may do this. Rattling, I want I had that luxurious.’’

Effectively, what the GM missed, 43,060 screaming followers witnessed.

“I used to be simply sitting there pondering I used to be going to have a mind aneurysm,” Jackson mentioned. “After which (Matzek) does that. It’s mind-blowing, simply mind-blowing. When he got here to the dugout, I attempted to hug him, however he’s a type of guys who’s so locked in, I don’t even know if he noticed me. I don’t assume he sees something besides a fastball at 100-mph. I might have kissed him if he let me.”

If it wasn’t heroic sufficient, Matzek went again out for the eighth inning, and shut down the Dodgers once more, 1-2-3, this time on six pitches.

One inning later, with nearer Will Smith on the mound, Anthopoulos lastly left his workplace within the higher deck, however this time moved downstairs to Snitker’s workplace. It was the primary time he realized that Snitker, who has been within the group since 1977, stored outdated media guides on his bookshelves.

“So I simply began thumbing by means of the 2016 Braves information,” Anthopoulos mentioned. “I wanted one thing to kill time.”

The 2016 season occurred to be the yr the Braves completed in final place within the NL East, shedding 93 video games and ending 26 ½ video games out of first place.

Now, 5 years later, Atlanta was going to the World Collection.

“(Matzek’s) acquired some enormous ones, I let you know that,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley mentioned. “Not way back, he was combating simply to remain in baseball. For him to be that man now could be simply unbelievable.”

Braves scouting director Dana Brown found Matzek in August 2018 and satisfied Anthopoulos to signal him to a minor-league deal. He dazzled hitters in a number of spot appearances in spring-training video games in 2020 till COVID-19 shut down the season for 4 months. When baseball returned, Snitker had a query.

“I used to be on the lookout for the man, however I couldn’t keep in mind his title,” Snitker says. “So, lastly I mentioned, “What’s the reliever we used to convey over? You recognize, the one which struck everybody out. What’s that man’s title once more?”

Tyler Alexander Matzek.

Nobody will quickly overlook it in these components, not after watching his efficiency this postseason. Matzek has pitched in all however certainly one of Atlanta’s 9 video games this postseason, posting a 1.74 ERA whereas hanging out 17 batters in 10 ⅓ innings.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Snitker mentioned. “He retains telling me he can pitch day by day, and the extra I pitch him, the higher he does. His breaking ball is the perfect it has been all yr. And the rate stayed. It’s unimaginable.”

Mentioned Smith: I don’t know the place to place what he simply did for this crew. He saved us. We don’t get to the World Collection with out him. Not even shut.”

Now, it’s onto the World Collection that begins in Houston, about 4 hours from the place Matzek resuscitated his profession. He was the No. 11 decide within the 2009 draft for the Colorado Rockies, acquired the yips, and it wasn’t till he started pitching for the AirHogs in 2018 in Grand Prairie, Texas, that he rediscovered his management.

“It’s been a journey,” Matzek mentioned. “There have been some robust occasions, some darkish occasions, but it surely makes what’s taking place now much more particular. You have a look at this crew, and there’s plenty of guys who’ve been counted out.”

Matzek believed his profession was over when he was granted free company by the Rockies in 2016 after which launched by the Chicago White Sox in 2017, the Seattle Mariners in 2018 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019.

However right here he was Saturday night, a bona fide hero, with a efficiency that can be etched in Atlanta postseason folklore.

“Humorous how life works, isn’t it?’’ Matzek mentioned. “Fairly wonderful.”

Comply with Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Tyler Matzek, Braves World Collection-bound. Supervisor as soon as forgot his title

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