Tyler Matzek’s journey takes him back to Texas again

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

HOUSTON – Tyler Matzek’s resurgence has brought him back to Texas. Again.

Matzek was the lefty no one saw coming a year ago. He became a crucial part of the Braves’ bullpen, helping them reach Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The Braves made their 2020 postseason run inside MLB’s Texas-based bubble, an appropriate setting for their out-of-nowhere lefty.

Just over a year before Matzek aided the Braves during that run, he was pitching in the independent league with the Texas AirHogs. Matzek, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, was staging a comeback. His career was ruined by mechanical and mental issues. Years later, he became the ultimate reclamation project for the Braves.

Now, Matzek is a nationally known southpaw after stifling the Dodgers in the 2021 NLCS. The former AirHog helped pitch his team into the World Series, where the Braves returned to Texas to face the Astros.

“Texas keeps bringing me back to baseball, and I’m fortunate for my time when I was with the AirHogs in the Arlington area,” Matzek said. “I think this is a little bit different baseball, but baseball’s baseball, man. I just can’t wait to go out there and play.”

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Matzek easily could’ve been an NLCS co-MVP with outfielder Eddie Rosario. Manager Brian Snitker said he wishes the MVP award could be “cut up” so Matzek could have a piece of it.

Matzek hasn’t allowed a run in eight of his nine appearances this postseason. He shut down the Dodgers in his last three outings of the NLCS, capped by an unforgettable Game 6 performance. Matzek logged two scoreless innings, striking out four of six hitters, as the Braves protected a narrow advantage.

“Eddie had an unbelievable series, but in my opinion, Matzek was the MVP,” fellow lefty A.J. Minter said. “What he’s done, he pitched every game besides one game in the postseason so far, and what he did was truly special. He put the team on his back when we needed it the most, and that’s what it’s all about when it’s the postseason.”

The southpaw entered in a dangerous situation. The Dodgers had trimmed the Braves’ lead to 4-2 and had two runners in scoring position with none out. Matzek doused the fire by striking out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza and Mookie Betts. He fanned two possible future Hall of Famers in that inning, including getting Betts on only three pitches.

“When Tyler Matzek got out of that game, absolutely incredible,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I was thinking when he was running in, when it’s 4-2, no outs, second and third, if we could somehow squeak out - if we’re only up by one, that’s huge. If we’re tied, I think everyone would take that. All of a sudden, we’re going in the dugout up by two. It’s really hard to even put into words how unbelievable that moment for our team, but more for him and what he’s been through.

“He might remind you, I’m his first strikeout in the big leagues. I’ve heard it now for two years how happy he is about that. His confidence level has gone through the roof. He’s got such a special arm. Left-handed arms like that don’t come around often.”

Matzek pitched another scoreless inning to complete his outing – and earn endless praise, from his team and national outlets, leading into Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.

“I have so much admiration for him, what he’s been through in his career,” Snitker said. “There’s another one that 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 is just, it amazes me, just the perseverance and everything that this guy’s been through.”

On a team full of comeback stories, Matzek’s is the one that stands out most. He can help give it – and his team – the perfect ending in the World Series.