Chris Mazza spent the first seven years of his baseball career toiling away in the minor leagues without getting a call to the majors. As a 27th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Mazza’s long journey took him from the Minnesota Twins—he pitched in the Gulf Coast League and in Single-A until his 2015 release—to the Miami Marlins—he made it up to Triple-A in 2018 before his eventual release—to the San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Association and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League.
After finishing out 2018 with the Seattle Mariners organization—he pitched the remainder of the year with the Arkansas Travelers—Mazza was selected by the New York Mets in the Triple-A portion of the Rule V Draft. He enjoyed moderate success as a starter for both the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (3.42 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 1.44 WHIP) and the Syracuse Mets (3.67 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.09 WHIP) before finally getting his break with a promotion on June 26. It was a nice moment for the 29-year-old, who waited a long time to get his shot.
Mazza didn’t have to wait too long after that. Three days later, the right-hander made his major league debut out of the bullpen and gave the team some much-needed innings in a difficult situation. After a 93-minute long rain delay forced Steven Matz out of the contest following two innings of work, Mazza entered to pick up where the left-hander left off. He surrendered hits to the first two batters he faced—Ronald Acuna Jr. and Dansby Swanson—to put the Mets in a three-run hole, but he recovered to retire the next three in order. He allowed one hit in each of the next three innings, but he escaped unscathed and finished his first appearance having allowed one earned run on five hits with two strikeouts over four innings. The Mets went on to lose the game, but Mazza had a memory to cherish forever.
For the remainder of the 2019 season, Mazza bounced around from Triple-A to the major leagues when needed, sporadically getting recalled to join the team in the bullpen. He was tagged for at least one earned run in each of his first six appearances through August 30. He allowed one earned run on one hit over 1.2 innings against the Marlins on July 12 and one earned run on two hits over two innings against the Twins before finishing July with his first career loss. In an extra innings affair against the San Francisco Giants on July 18, Mazza pitched a 1-2-3 15th inning and saw his club jump ahead on a Pete Alonso lead-off homer in the next frame. With a thin bullpen given the length of the game, Mazza melted down in the 16th and surrendered back-to-back doubles before hitting a batter. Kevin Pillar singled to load the bases, and Donovan Solano singled to bring home the winning run.
Mazza wouldn’t see major league action again until August 27, when he tossed two innings of one-run, four-hit ball at home against the Chicago Cubs. He followed that up with the worst outing of his young career on August 30 against the Philadelphia Phillies. In a game that his team led 11-1, Mazza made things semi-interesting by allowing four runs in the inning before finally shutting the door by getting Jean Segura to ground out with a runner on second. His ERA rose to 7.71 on the season to go along with a 3.39 FIP. In 11.2 innings at the big league level, he had a 13.8% strikeout rate, a 5.2% walk rate and had been charged with ten earned runs on 21 hits with three walks and eight strikeouts.
Mazza had a much more cromulent September and closed out his first year with his first major league victory. He tossed 2.1 shutout innings in relief on September 12 at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, marking the first time he completed an outing without allowing a run. He repeated the feat on September 24 with 1.2 hitless innings against the Marlins. He was the final person to throw a pitch for the Mets in 2019, as he replaced Walker Lockett in the 11th inning of the season’s final game and, on his first pitch, induced a ground ball double play to end the frame. Thanks to a Dominic Smith walk-off three-run home run in the bottom half of the 11th, Mazza was able to end the year with a win.
Following his first major league appearance on June 29, Mazza referred to his chance with the Mets as “a dream come true”. He struggled through the same growing pains that any rookie pitcher often encounters in their first go-around in the majors. Mazza finished with a 5.51 ERA, a 3.52 FIP, a 1.59 WHIP, a 6.1 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and an 11.6 H/9 in 16.1 innings pitched. It’s unclear whether Mazza will receive another chance with the team in 2020, but if nothing else, he was able to live out a lifelong dream and showed us all the importance of perseverance and personal belief.