Here we go yet again. And it’s getting more ridiculous than before. To the point where someone might be tempted to spike Jacob deGrom’s MP3 player with the Four Tops.
Once upon a time, that legendary Motown quartet sang, “It’s the same old song/with a different meaning since you’ve been gone.” Except it isn’t deGrom who’s gone, it’s the Mets offense when he’s on the mound.
He’s too much a team player to say it, but he must be tempted to wish his teammates wouldn’t just sing “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” but mean it and show it.
For the second time in his first two 2021 starts, deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer. For the second time in his first two starts, his Mets could have been hauled into court for non-support and for trashing what he left behind. Or, at least, for impersonating the St. Louis Browns.
On Saturday his only blemish was the 0-2 fastball Marlins rookie Jazz Chisholm deposited over the right field fence in the top of the second, after deGrom struck Garrett Cooper and Brian Anderson out swinging.
Those were two of fourteen strikeouts deGrom nailed in eight innings’ work. He threw 95 pitches and 76 were strikes; he scattered five hits including the Chisholm bomb; he was, in other words, the Jacob deGrom who may still remain the favourite for this year’s National League Cy Young Award.
If the Mets keep playing this kind of baseball with deGrom on the mound, the righthander may set another precedent, even in theory: the first 20-game “loser” to win the Cy Young Award.
Don’t laugh, it could happen. DeGrom has an 0.64 ERA and a 1.55 fielding-independent pitching rate. Right now, these Mets seem capable entirely of going the distance to hang 20 losses in deGrom’s locker despite him making their late Hall of Famer Tom Seaver resemble the late Anthony Young.
Marlins rookie Trevor Rogers pitched like a deGrom aspirant on the other side, with ten punchouts in six innings and three measly hits against him while walking two to deGrom’s none. He threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes to deGrom’s 80 percent. These Marlins need all the good news they can find and Rogers, a lefthander who stands an inch taller than deGrom does physically, may be some of their best news this year.
For eight innings the game stayed 1-0 and deGrom’s elegant assassination of the Marlins other than the Chisholm blast was rewarded with the Mets forgetting that it’s neither necessary nor possible to hit six-run homers every time they check in at the plate.
They had Brandon Nimmo opening the first with a double and taking third when the Marlins misplayed Francisco Lindor’s bunt at second base—and stranded him when Lindor got arrested for attempted grand theft second base followed by Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso striking out.
They had Dom Smith leading off the fifth with a line single past second base but James McCann dialing an immediate Area Code 6-4-3; then, they got the gift of Jeff McNeil wringing Rogers for a full count walk and taking second on a balk with Jonathan Villar at the plate—but they also got Villar striking out for the side.
They had deGrom himself leading off the sixth with a base hit, first and second when Nimmo followed immediately with a walk, and first and third when deGrom had room enough to tag for it on Lindor’s fly to the back of right field—and Conforto and Alfonso striking out for the side again.
They had six chances to get men in scoring position home and blew all six chances. Even allowing how tough Rogers was on the day, that’s six veterans unable to out-think the rookie when they were at the plate and give their own man even two runs to work with.
Of course, in deGrom’s first start the Mets actually let him leave a game with a lead only to see one inning of shutdown relief followed by another of the bullpen puking the bed. This time, the Mets left deGrom in a 1-0 hole—and the bullpen had another stomach upset.
Specifically, the one imposed by Edwin Diaz opening the Miami ninth. He served Starling Marte a grapefruit to hit for a long double on 0-1 and handed Jesus Aguilar a 1-0 meatball to dump into short right center for an RBI single. Just when it looked like Diaz would contain the damage with a fly out to center (Cooper) and a grounder to short (Anderson) forcing Aguilar at second, he walked Chisholm unintentionally and served Miguel Rojas an orange to shoot through the hole at shortstop and send Anderson home.
Then Jeurys Familia kept the damage to a pair by striking out Chad Wallach on three pitches. What was the reward in the bottom of the ninth? Doing nothing against Miami reliever Yimi Garcia. Lindor lined out to the right side of the infield, Conforto grounded out to second, and Alonso looked at strike three right on the floor of the zone on 1-2.
Guess Conforto couldn’t elbow his way into getting something going the way he did Thursday, when he did or didn’t quite get out of the way of a pitch that caught him on the elbow guard with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Twenty viewings of that segment and I still couldn’t tell for dead last certain whether Conforto thought about a swing and snuffed the thought at once, or whether he thought he might get away with taking one for the team. Those who think Conforto was looking for a sneaky play should be reminded that his career-long habit with two strikes on him is to lean over the plate a little more than normal.
Plate ump Ron Kulpa rung him up on strike three—then called hit batsman. A replay review didn’t overturn the call that Kulpa knew should have been strike three with the batter failing to get out of the way of the strike. Even the Mets’ own broadcast team—Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling—knew Conforto got away with manslaughter.
The ump declared mea Kulpa right after that game. He got cheered by the Citi Field crowd Saturday, appropriately. We know too much about ump malfeasance and umpires refusing to admit they blew one; we should expect an ump getting some love when he admits he made a big mistake.
The boo birds let the still-struggling Conforto have it in the sixth. Speculation abounds that Conforto in his contract walk year and other formidable Met hitters are pressing too heavily at the plate. (They’re 6-for-41 with men in scoring position so far.)
Nimmo all but admitted as much when he told a reporter, “That could be happening, I’m not in everyone’s mind, but I do try and talk and figure out what guys are thinking, but that definitely could be happening as the game goes on and the runs are not there . . . it definitely could be happening in some guys’ minds.”
Ask deGrom—as the same reporter did about him having a 2.06 ERA since 2018 while the Mets have been six games under .500 in his starts in the same span—and you’re not going to get him to admit he just might have those non-support papers ready to file at the nearest courthouse.
Even if he isn’t quite the most luck-afflicted of hard-luck pitchers. Nobody denies deGrom pitches in an ocean of rotten luck. But he’s not even the most hard-luck pitcher in Met history, believe it or not. That dubious honour belongs to Jon Matlack, whose 39 percent of starts with two runs or less to work with is the highest in franchise history. Higher than the 37 percent shared by Matt Harvey and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, higher than the 33 percent of Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, higher than deGrom’s 35 percent.
That could change rather drastically, if the Mets continue their very dubious practise of forgetting how to hit when deGrom is on the mound. Bless him, deGrom doesn’t want to think about things like that. Yet. “I try to control what I can control,” he insisted, “and that’s getting ready for my next start. I hadn’t seen that stat. These guys are great. They’re going out there giving 100 percent. Today we just got beat.”
If he doesn’t exactly sound like the abused spouse who’s willing to believe yet again that the abuser will keep the promise to never, ever, ever do that again, he’s not that far from it, either. If he keeps pitching like a Hall of Famer and wins a third Cy Young Award this year, despite his team making his “won-lost” record resemble an Anthony Young Award winner’s, someone’s going to have to do an intervention.