Squaring off against Clayton Kershaw in Game One, Jacob deGrom plain outpitched the Los Angeles Dodgers’ maestro. Squaring off against Zack Greinke in Game Five Thursday night, deGrom didn’t have his first-game mojo working. So he went to his belly. And it turned out that the slender fellow with the delta wing hair and the infectiously prankish grin had all the belly he needed.
It didn’t hurt that he and his New York Mets had Daniel Murphy on their side, either. That’s why they’re going to the National League Championship Series and the Dodgers are going home early for a third straight year, possibly with their manager’s head in a noose.
Three straight postseason exits—first in a League Champonship Series, then two consecutive division series—doesn’t look good for Don Mattingly despite leading his Dodgers to three straight division titles. Neither does letting his infield get caught with its pants down on a fourth-inning walk.
Murphy accounted for all three runs in the Mets’ hair raiser of a 3-2 win. He did it with a little help from his friends from the other dugout, and a little help from Greinke feeding him the right down and in pitch to bomb in two innings later.
All deGrom had to do was shake off a first inning in which the Dodgers tore four singles and two runs out of him, find every whichy way to survive from that point forward, with forward being extremely negotiable at some points. Especially when manager Terry Collins got Noah Syndergaard, his Game Two starter, up and throwing in the pen early and often enough.
All deGuts did was pitch into and out of trouble like a practical joker who’d just barely dodged the consequences of his identity being revealed to his victims. “If you would have told me he would have got through six with two runs,” said David Wright after the game, “I would have told you that you are crazy. But he stayed in there, he battled and was great.”
“We scored in the first inning, and the last thing I wanted to do was give up two to put them ahead,” deGrom said. “But after that, my whole goal was to just put zeros. I knew from inning one it was gonna be a battle. A good lineup and it’s not fun when you don’t have your best stuff. I was struggling. [Pitching coach Dan Warthen] came out and said ‘let’s go one pitch at a time, they are not going to score any more.’ He had confidence in me and I was thankful I got to stay in that game.”
Only after deGuts yielded at last to Syndergaard for the seventh and closer Jeurys Familia for the eighth and ninth, Familia being asked for the first six-out save of his life, did anyone notice that:
* The Dodgers got those four straight singles in the first and only two hits after that, and both those hits belonged to Justin Turner, who’d made himself a pain in the neck to the team that dumped him unceremoniously enough after 2013.
* All night long, the Dodgers got 0-for-Game Five from their numbers six through eight hitters.
* After getting hits in their first two tries with men in scoring position, the Dodgers went the rest of the night going 0-for-11—against deGrom. Neither Syndergaard nor Familia let them get anyone that close. And Familia probably lit New York up like New Year’s Eve when he got pinch-hitter Chase Utley—awaiting his appeal on his suspension for drawing and quartering Ruben Tejada over the weekend—to fly out to Granderson taking about three steps forward for the catch.
* When Adrian Gonzalez wrung a two-out walk out of Syndergaard, Dodger Stadium braced itself for another Turner thrash—and watched in horror as Syndergaard got him to foul off three straight before swishing him on a breaking ball that looked like it was snickering as it arrived at the plate.
* Nobody knows just who called rest period for the Dodgers in the top of the fourth, when Murphy—who’d opened by shooting a single through the right side as if he was trying to bank a screw ball in the side pocket—trotted to second on Lucas Duda’s one-out walk with the Dodgers in a complete to-the-right-side shift on Duda, then stole third unmolested. And came home promptly on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly.
Even Murphy was slightly amazed. “You’ve got to give a peek and hope that nobody calls timeout, because then I go sprinting to third base and somebody calls timeout, I look like a buffoon,” he said after the game. “I’m not fleet afoot, but I was just fast enough to be able to get in there and make it.”
That was three innings after Murphy staked the Mets to a first-inning 1-0 lead, sending one to the back of center field for an RBI double then taking third as Curtis Granderson (leadoff single) scored when Dodgers center fielder Enrique Hernandez’s throw went offline for an error.
As a matter of fact, Granderson was called out initially—but a replay review overturned the call and Granderson was safe. Apparently the Mets weren’t asleep even once all night long.
A few Mets seemed to be dozing all series long, though. Duda, Wright, and Yoenis Cespedes spent Game Five going 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts, and the Duda-Wright tandem went 3-for-34 with only two RBIs and eighteen strikeouts.
Two innings after Murphy awoke the Dodger infield the hard way, he lined up a 3-1 Greinke fastball and drove it right past the foul pole into the lower right field seats. And then it struck Dodgerdom hard: Murphy had done in one week what only one player (Kole Calhoun of the Los Angeles Angels, in case you were curious) had done all year—taken both Greinke and Kershaw over the fences.
Greinke struck out nine and almost got hung with more than three runs when he left two aboard for his relief Luis Avilan in the top of the seventh. But Avilan got Granderson to fly out for the side. Chris Hatcher and closer Kenley Jansen finished up for the Dodgers, and Jansen dodged a two-out double from late-game replacement Juan Lagares, but it hardly mattered anymore.
It almost didn’t matter, even, that Mattingly and outfielder Andre Ethier looked like they were having a ferocious dugout argument in the bottom of the third. As things turned out, Ethier was fuming over a pitch call and Mattingly was trying to keep him from getting tossed.
But then you had to watch deGrom in that inning, with Syndergaard warming up already, after Collins visited the mound and probably figured, what the hell, the kid’s already stranded four, he can bail himself out right here. Then deGrom threw a too-perfect double play ball to Hernandez, which bounced right back to deGrom himself to start the 1-6-3 dial.
Of course deGuts did Collins the bigger favour by pitching as he went on to pitch. Let deGrom falter even once more, more drastically, and Collins would have been New York’s number one public enemy in a heartbeat.
Fortunately, the right heartbeat prevailed. The one beneath the delta-wing hair and behind the number 48 on his uniform front who went so big with so little Thursday night to send the Mets back toward a reasonable shot at the World Series.