Steven Matz followed his worst major league start with his best. Matz, the New York Mets’ rookie left-hander, spun seven dazzling innings to stifle the Cleveland Indians, 6-0, on a sun-splashed day that turned dark early for the home team.
Matz made six starts last season without a loss, but was bruised for seven runs last week in a brief season debut against Miami. He responded here by striking out nine, a career high, while allowing only three hits — and managing to keep the ball out of the sun.
This is Cleveland, so rock & roll and LeBron James made for a fitting backdrop to this series finale. The bright, cloudless April sky was less typical, but would generally seem to be a good thing for Cleveland. Not on Sunday.
The Indians have played one postseason game since 2007. Their next-door neighbors, the Cavaliers, hosted an NBA playoff opener Sunday. It tipped off during the Indians’ game, and a pregame concert, held in a plaza just beyond the left field gate, could be heard until the middle innings.
By then, the locals were enjoying the weather, but the Indians were not. Their center fielder, Rajai Davis, lost two balls in the sun to help doom their ace, Corey Kluber. The Mets seized control early against Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, and never let go.
Kluber walked Curtis Granderson to start the game. Asdrubal Cabrera, a former Indian, bounced a single between the legs of Granderson, who was shuffling off first. Then came Michael Conforto, who has fit nicely in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. He smashed a run-scoring double to center.
Yoenis Cespedes struck out, but before he did, he lofted a foul that dropped to the warning track near the on-deck circle. The catcher, Yan Gomes, apparently could not find it in the sun. This would be a theme.
Lucas Duda lined a two-run single on Kluber’s first pitch to give the Mets a 3-0 lead. Their next three runs would also be charged to Kluber, but only because the official scorer spared Davis two errors.
The scorer had good reason: Davis was blinded by the sun. With two outs and nobody on in the second, he retreated for Granderson’s fly ball and held his glove high above his head. Davis’ sunglasses did not help, and neither did his glove. The ball fell to the track as Granderson hustled for a triple.
Cabrera followed with a bunt, perfectly placed on the grass between the mound and the third base line. Kluber grabbed it, lost his balance and threw wildly to first base. Cabrera was going to be safe anyway, but he scampered to second on Kluber’s error.
With Granderson home, it was 4-0 Mets, and Conforto blistered a ball down the first-base line. Mike Napoli was shading him there but could not get his glove down. The ball bounded past him for another run-scoring double.
Cespedes hit next and popped an easy fly ball to center — easy on most days, anyway. Davis was rendered helpless again, his glasses and glove still failing to block the sun. The ball plummeted to earth for a gift double, and the Mets had their sixth run.
Kluber settled in after that, doing his best to keep the ball out of the sky by baffling the Mets with his breaking balls. But the early outburst was plenty for Matz, who mixed fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups the way he did not against the Marlins.
“He might have learned a lot from his last outing,” manager Terry Collins had said before the game. “He’s got to pitch. Even though he might not have command of one pitch, you’ve still got to use your stuff. He’s got a lot of weapons to turn to and I hope he does that today.”
Matz had it all working Sunday, and the Mets (5-6) had their first series victory of the season.
The infant son of starter Jacob deGrom is improving, deGrom told manager Terry Collins. “I talked to him last night,” Collins said Sunday morning. “The baby is doing better. That’s a good sign. I told Jake he needs to get some rest and mix in a meal.” DeGrom, who is on family medical emergency leave, was scheduled for bullpen sessions Sunday and Tuesday as he builds back his pitch count after straining a muscle in his back in his first start. . . . Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who bruised his left elbow when he was hit by a pitch from Zach McAllister on Saturday, may miss the opener of the Mets’ series in Philadelphia on Monday. “I might give him one more day, just to make sure,” Collins said. “He said he feels a lot better, but he was pretty sore last night.” . . . The Mets will face Vince Velasquez on Tuesday in their series against the Phillies. Velasquez, who fired six shutout innings with nine strikeouts at Citi Field on April 9, followed up by striking out 16 San Diego Padres in a three-hit shutout last week.