Jacob deGrom‘s season-long streak of dominance continued into yesterday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies. Just a day removed from a seven-inning, three-hit, 11-strikeout performance from Aaron Nola that ignited discussions about his own standing in the National League Cy Young race, deGrom left an imprint of his own, allowing an unearned run while notching nine strikeouts en route to the team’s first nine-inning complete game since June 12, 2017 – also courtesy of deGrom.
It’s not easy to pick out particular highlights when the righty has essentially churned them out on a constant basis this year. Regardless, the fact that deGrom managed such a feat while sitting on pins and needles through a 41-minute rain delay may take the cake. He threw 108 pitches – 78 for strikes en route to his third straight win – thus bringing his record to a still disappointing, though ultimately less egregious 8-7. With an ERA that now sits at 1.71, deGrom is now 40 points ahead of Max Scherzer for the National League lead and 26 points ahead of Chris Sale for the Major League lead.
DeGrom threw 25 of his first 34 pitches to strikes, allowing a double to Maikel Franco in the second, but otherwise setting down every hitter he faced through his first three innings. None of the Philly hitters struck out after the righty fanned Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins to open the contest, but even then, deGrom compensated by making the important pitches, inducing a series of soft grounders and weak popouts on a slew of 1-1, 1-2, and 2-2 pitches that had eluded him even last season. After Hoskins singled to lead off the fourth, deGrom went right back to business, working another popout from Carlos Santana before striking out both Wilson Ramos and Nick Williams to end the frame.
Another testament to the strength of his repertoire, eight of deGrom’s nine strikeouts were split between four sliders and four fastballs. DeGrom also fit two strikeouts into an inning on four separate occasions. Put more simply, it’s foolish, if not impossible to argue that deGrom rode the coattails of either a specifically unhittable pitch or a brief stretch of quality work.
— Dwight Gooden (@DocGooden16) August 19, 2018
It’s worth mentioning that deGrom did run into a few jams in the middle innings, just as a means of accentuating the grit that has never wavered throughout his historic season. After Hoskins doubled with two out in the sixth, deGrom fell behind Santana – the three-hitter – 3-0, with his last two misses coming on sliders. Naturally, deGrom saddled up, pumped two fastballs (each 98 mph) along the inside corner, and pulled a string on 3-2 to beat Santana on a wicked slider. The Mets rewarded deGrom with three runs of support the following inning, quadrupling his weekly ration and effectively erasing the need for manager Mickey Callaway to keep his bullpen on speed dial.
“I think it’s the same stuff we have seen all year,” Callaway said after the game. “His ability to go out there and get ahead, attack with his best stuff and when the game is on the line or a runner is in scoring position with a two-run lead he steps up and makes even better pitches.”
Such was exactly the case in the seventh inning – the last noteworthy hitch of deGrom’s afternoon. After Franco and Williams each singled (the at-bats spanned one and two pitches, respectively) with one gone, the ace had no choice but to attack Odubel Herrera and his .842 OPS with runners in scoring position. Despite reaching on a double-play grounder that would score Williams, Herrera was tagged out at the first base bag after turning towards second. DeGrom, who had been covering first and dropped the relay throw, bolted straight after it and shuffled the ball right back to Jeff McNeil to get out of trouble.
“I think what we’re playing for is to make ourselves better every day, and if we can do that and continue to improve, we are going to help Jacob out in his quest,” Callaway would later add when asked about how deGrom’s standing in the race may have affected his decision-making.“We were optimistic the whole time that he’d be able to go out and finish… You do get worried, so we had that in the back of the mind but we checked with him and he seemed like he was in a good spot.”
The ninth inning began with a single up the middle from Santana. With the slow-footed Ramos at the plate, deGrom offered a low slider on the first pitch, and like clockwork, the infielders behind deGrom turned the ensuing a 6-4-3 double play. One routine groundout later, the cheers could be heard through Citizens Bank Park. Literally. In the midst of a thrillingly competitive season, the Phillies’ fans themselves had banded together to applaud the effort. Either that or the only remaining fans were in orange and blue… they’re both impressive by the standards the rest of the team has set.
Jacob deGrom threw his first complete game in a Cy Young season.
The final at-bat — a game-ending groundout from Nick Williams:
Pitch 106: 98.3 mph
Pitch 107: 99.0 mph
Pitch 108: 99.1 mph (groundout)
Those were, successively, his three fastest pitches of the game.
— David Adler (@_dadler) August 18, 2018
DeGrom had reportedly been told by pitching coach Dave Eiland that he would be lifted from the game if the rain delay had eclipsed 45 minutes. Essentially working on the borderline just one start removed from a 114-pitch effort against the Yankees, deGrom was by no means expected to truck as thoroughly through the game as he had.
“I definitely wanted it bad,” deGrom said of the complete game in the postgame. That sort of intensity seemed to take a backseat when the righty was asked about his personal feelings revolving around the Cy Young race, which despite its statistical inclination towards deGrom, has been fraught with more traditional, perhaps problematic analysis of wins, losses, and “proven” pitchers, like Scherzer and Zack Greinke.
“What other guys do out is out of my control. I just have to go out there and do what I can do.”
If modesty had any sort of weight in a player’s on-field value, the former college shortstop would have been given the award as soon as yesterday’s game came to a close. It still means more to a pitcher’s credentials than wins and losses.