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All-time greatness touches down on this star-crossed franchise every five or six days.
If you can’t appreciate what Jacob deGrom is doing here in 2021, very much including the strikeouts by the dozen, then baseball just isn’t your sport.
Baseball’s best pitcher — its best player, period? — authored a gem for the ages Friday night at Citi Field, at a time when his club badly needed it, yet that tells only part of the story: The right-hander took a baseball outcome that has turned depressingly pedestrian — the strikeout — and elevated it back into an event. A celebration.
In mowing down 15 Nationals en route to a 6-0 Mets victory, halting his club’s losing streak at three games, deGrom set a personal record for Ks and recorded his second career shutout. Then there was this: His 50 strikeouts for the season, over 29 innings pitched, established a new Major League Baseball plateau for a pitcher’s first four starts of the season. Oh, and his ERA dropped to an insane 0.31.
“We’re witnessing something special,” deGrom’s manager Luis Rojas said.
The 32-year-old, arguably the most athletic pitcher in the game today, naturally delivered the game-winning RBI, his fifth-inning, one-out double scoring J.D. Davis from second base and pausing the Mets’ multi-season narrative of failing to hit in the clutch, and he added an eighth-inning single, meaning that he delivered as many hits as he allowed (and he didn’t walk anyone, either).
“Tonight I felt really good,” deGrom said. “That’s the best my changeup’s been in a long time. So I had three pitches working (fastball, slider and changeup) and I was comfortable throwing them at any time. That made it a lot of fun.”
Fun defined the night, which served as another chance to appreciate the return of fans, even in pandemic-limited percentages, to the ballpark. Would deGrom have pulled this off last year in front of only staff, media and cardboard cutouts? Can’t say for sure, yet we know for certain that the piped-in crowd noise wouldn’t have started chanting “MVP!” as deGrom’s night leapt from sublime to ridiculous. It wouldn’t have roared with approval when, at 100 pitches through eight innings, deGrom, up second, approached the on-deck circle in the bottom of the eighth, the signal that he would try to go the distance.
“When I walked out there, it sounded like the place was full,” deGrom said of the announced crowd of 8,130, and then he registered a 1-2-3 ninth inning to retire the last 19 batters he faced.
Even the grouchiest old-school baseball observer couldn’t mope about deGrom mowing down an opposing lineup with strikeouts galore, right? He is both artist and assassin, hitting his spots and blowing hitters away; 10 of his pitches registered 100 miles per hour or faster. That he supports his own cause with his bat should throw a bone to the old-schoolers, no?
“Every time he keeps getting a hit, it surprises me,” said Brandon Nimmo, who provided a healthy cushion for deGrom with a single, double, homer and four RBI, indirectly responding to a Steve Cohen tweet earlier in the evening that jabbed the Mets for their offensive woes. “I know I should expect those things from Jake.”
At this point, from deGrom, we should expect everything and be surprised by nothing. He is Sandy Koufax in the 1960s, Ron Guidry in 1978, Dwight Gooden in 1985. He is his own saga within the Mets’ attempt to rebrand themselves under Cohen.
He is must-see baseball, the strikeouts part of the attraction.
“Special, special day,” deGrom’s catcher Tomas Nido said. An instant classic from a surging giant. How will deGrom top this one? You’ll adjust your schedules to find out.
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