Thursday afternoon, Jeff Mathis signed a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers, ending his two-year stint with the Diamondbacks. I am sad to see him go; I suppose I have a soft spot for light-hitting, defense-first catchers (hello, Tuffy Gosewisch!). Since his departure will not get nearly the attention of A.J. Pollock’s or Patrick Corbin’s, let’s take a look back on Jeff’s top moments as a Diamondback.
First Impressions Are Key
Mathis’s best game as a D-Back was perhaps his first. On Opening Day of 2017, the 35-year-old had the first hit of Arizona’s season, a triple off the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner in the bottom of the sixth inning. He would subsequently score the first run of the year on a single by Nick Ahmed, igniting a late comeback. However, his day was not done. He tacked on a single in the 7th, but his biggest at-bat came in the 9th. Trailing 5-4, representing the Diamondbacks’ final out, Mathis drove a double to left-center, the first of four consecutive two-out hits to give the D-Backs a 6-5 walk-off victory. The game was one of two in Jeff’s Diamondbacks career in which he had multiple extra-base hits.
A Wild Bunt
In a game with thrill after thrill, it is easy to forget about a bunt single. However, Mathis’s clever play was one of the more surprising moments of the game. In the bottom of the 8th, Mathis stepped up to the plate with two outs, runners on first and third, Chase Field still rocking from A.J. Pollock’s triple two batters ago to put Arizona up 10-7. The Rockies had just disrespected Mathis by intentionally walking Daniel Descalso, and on the first pitch...
... a bunt RBI single to make the game 11-7, allowing D-Backs fans to breathe a little easier about the upcoming Fernando Rodney Experience. The secondary headline on the Cespedes Family BBQ video brings me much joy: “Mathis’ bunt makes Jake and Jordan lose their minds.”
Two days later, Mathis produced an even more surprising at-bat. In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, the D-Backs entered the 7th inning trailing 7-2 against the best pitcher of his generation. Hope was not abundant. After a Ketel Marte solo shot made it a 4-run deficit, Mathis entered the box with the bases empty. Again on the first pitch...
Jeff Mathis knocks Clayton Kershaw out of the game in the 7th.— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 7, 2017
Yup, Jeff Mathis. pic.twitter.com/sIYy9pYoQ8
... Mathis knocked Kershaw out of the game and injected hope into D-Backs fans. He also stunned Twitter:
jEFf MaThIs PlAyOfF hOmEr OfF cLaYtOn KeRsHaW wHaT iS gOiNg On— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) October 7, 2017
OH MY GOD JEFF MATHIS SAYS F U @GoldyHappens AND GOES YARD OFF KERSHAW!!! 4 SOLO HOMERS TODAY AND ITS NOW JUST 7-4— Goldschmidt Happens (@GoldyHappens) October 7, 2017
Jeff Mathis just hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, let that one sink in for a moment— Taylor Blake Ward (@TaylorBlakeWard) October 7, 2017
Good Night, Folks
Exactly one year after his 3-for-4 debut with the D-Backs, Mathis was the hero in the most memorable regular season game that I have witnessed in person. He was not in the starting lineup that night, watching from the bench as Chris Owings hit a 3-run homer with two outs in the 9th to tie the game at 6-6. The two sides exchanged zeroes for the next five innings, and during the 14th a question that has always nagged me was answered: yes, there is a 14th inning stretch. After Chase Utley drove in a run off Fernando Salas in the 15th inning, the D-Backs needed an answer to avoid losing what was at the time the longest game in Chase Field history. Nick Ahmed doubled home Jake Lamb to tie the game at 7, and after an intentional walk of Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis was brought in to pinch hit for Salas. At 12:25 AM, Mathis drove a ball into the left-center gap to send the exhausted fans home with a memory they’ll never forget.
While you were sleeping, Chris Owings forced extra innings with a bomb and 5 hours, 45 minutes after it started Jeff Mathis walked off the Dodgers. pic.twitter.com/9rR4dSYfzD— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) April 3, 2018
In a Gatorade-soaked interview with Fox Sports Arizona’s Kate Longworth after the game, Mathis stated “I was going in to pitch the next inning, and I really didn’t want to do that.”
Little did Jeff know, he would end up pitching about three months later in a contest that overtook his walk-off win for longest Chase Field game. At least this one was during the day. Mathis went 2-for-6 at the plate with an RBI-double, but this game is notable for his work at the mound. Having used 8 pitchers in relief, including starter Zack Godley, Jeff Mathis was given the ball in the 16th, game tied at 3. I cannot recall another occasion that I have seen a position player pitch in a non-blowout. Most position players seem to throw in the 60s or low 70s; Mathis was throwing HEAT, clocking 86 on the gun. He got a lineout against the first batter, followed by a strikeout looking(!) against Carlos Asuaje.
Jeff Mathis' first career strikeout: PAINT. pic.twitter.com/aJa2dkpcia— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) July 9, 2018
Unfortunately, Wil Myers took Mathis deep to right-center after a 9-pitch at-bat to give San Diego a 4-3 lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Mathis came up to the plate with Ketel Marte standing on second base. Had Mathis homered, he would have given himself the win in possibly the greatest result in baseball history. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and Mathis would be tagged with the loss.
To close, a tweet from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Sources confirm Jeff Mathis has a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers. No exaggeration: Mathis is the most-respected catcher — maybe the most-respected fielder period — in baseball. Pitchers rave about him. Good sign to kick off free agency. @Ken_Rosenthal had agreement first.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 16, 2018
“Most-respected catcher -- maybe the most-respected fielder period -- in baseball.” Best of luck in Texas, Jeff.
Favorite Jeff Mathis moment?
This poll is closed
Opening Day 2017
Wild Card Bunt
Homer Against Kershaw
15th Inning Walk-Off
16th Inning Pitching
Other (comment below!)