This afternoon, Jacob deGrom took the hill against Chris Sale through three innings, and across his next four pitched against a variety of circumstances that, in some respects, got the better of him. After all, when you post your lowest game score (a miserable 67) in nearly four weeks, your earned run average goes up (now at a dreadful 1.78), and you don’t get the win, there’s no way you could have actually performed to the best of your abilities, right? Well, about that…
MLB Network‘s Harold Reynolds may have other ideas, but a pitcher who strikes out a dozen and allows just three runs on five hits across seven innings (which deGrom did today in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox) on a supposedly “bad day” is more than deserving of a Cy Young Award at this point. DeGrom’s 251 strikeouts in 2018 are now a personal single-season best, tying him with Tom Seaver (1973) for the fifth-most in franchise history. He also set a career-high in innings with 202, and tied for fourth with Sid Fernandez on the franchise leaderboard for double-digit strikeout games with his 31st.
Regarding the start itself, deGrom certainly made an impression in the early going, as he struck out six of the first seven hitters he faced and clawed his way into five 0-2 counts against his first eight. The ace used an assortment of different pitches to dominate his opponents, winning a full count battle against Mookie Betts on a slider low and away, striking out Brock Holt on three pitches, and again going three and out to lead off the second frame – this time beating Steve Pearce on three consecutive fastballs (95, 96, and 97 mph, respectively).
He proceeded to strike out Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, and Jackie Bradley on sliders as the third inning turned, but struggled after the first out. After Rafael Devers singled and reached third on a hit-and-run base knock from Christian Vazquez, deGrom’s usually phenomenal adaptability was tested, and in some respects wavered. A hanging slider to Betts luckily died at the warning track for a sacrifice fly, but Holt added two more after tagging a fastball out into the right-field bullpen to put the Mets in a 3-0 hole.
“I’m not happy with it. I don’t like giving up runs…” deGrom said of his step-back inning. “I gotta be better than that. But it is what it is.”
Even with the clear bump in the road, deGrom entered the fourth inning at just 45 pitches – 34 strikes, no less – and remained in control as Boston continued to knock on the door. And the Red Sox, who led the majors handsomely in runs scored (795), WPA (1150), wOBA (.338), and OPS with men in scoring position (.881), put just three more men on base following the third in response.
The first, Pearce, led off the fourth with a walk. DeGrom – as he’s done time and time again – worked around it, striking out Moreland and Kinsler before inducing a fly out to center from Bradley. The fifth inning was even cleaner, featuring another pair of strikeouts and commanding only 14 pitches. And interestingly enough, the Mets’ offense actually stood up for its star pitcher, bringing in two runs in the sixth before deGrom came back out for an 11-pitch frame. Pearce doubled with two away in the sixth to put an insurance run on base and lift deGrom’s famed streak of 26 consecutive starts of three runs allowed or fewer in the air.
No successful pitcher lets the prospect of losing a streak break their conscience, but even then, few are nearly as capable of extricating themselves as deGrom, and despite failing to keep himself clean altogether, the righty kept his composure, working a 6-3 dribbler out of Moreland to strand the runner.
Perhaps even more nerve-wracking was the home stretch in the bottom of the seventh. Now pitching with a 3-3 tie to protect, deGrom pitched to the bottom of the Red Sox’ order with Jackie Bradley at second and one out – thanks to a single and steal. Despite yet another undesirable circumstance, deGrom rose to the occasion, painting the outside corner with a slider to Rafael Devers and escaping on a 2-0 flyout to left field off the bat of Christian Vazquez to end his day.
“I just kept focus. I knew I had good stuff, and I made a couple mistakes that [third] inning, and just had to turn the page and go out there and try keeping us in the game… We were in the game the whole way.”
Of the 107 pitches deGrom threw this afternoon, his 38 sliders made for his highest percentage (35.5%) all season, and clearly worked for him given his collection of strikeouts on the outer half through the entire game. In various respects, both as a pitcher trying to learn and grow and as a Cy Young candidate forcing his way into the discussion revolving around elite starting pitchers, deGrom’s no-decision today could be considered a resounding step forward.
“He’s been amazing. Forget the record. Look at the real numbers. It’s impressive,” said Boston manager and former Met infielder Alex Cora following the game. “I know the voting is tough, but he should win the Cy Young.”