Season by season, game after game, New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom has been compiling a résumé that has many calling him baseball’s best pitcher.
On Friday night, deGrom made the 187th start of his big league career. It might have been his most dominant outing yet.
DeGrom struck out 15 batters without a walk en route to a two-hit shutout of the Washington Nationals in New York, as the Mets cruised 6-0. DeGrom (2-1) threw 109 pitches while recording the second shutout and fourth complete game of his career. He lowered his ERA to 0.31 over four starts, each of which seems to better the one before.
“It goes down to just one pitch at a time,” deGrom said, reducing the most overwhelming game-by-game performance of any current pitcher in baseball to a simple formula. “That’s how I concentrate on a game. Hit my spot. If you end up missing it, so what. You’ve got to make the next pitch. But it’s that focus on that pitch that you’re about to throw that you can control. The previous games, those are over with.”
When you’re talking about a 33-year-old, two-time Cy Young winner, you’d think you’d start to run out of “firsts” on a list of superlatives, but against all reason, deGrom seems to get better with each outing. The 15 K’s were a career high, a personal milestone he fell just shy of setting during his previous two starts when he struck out 14 for the fourth and fifth times in his career, respectively. Finally, he one-upped himself. The last Mets pitcher to record 15 strikeouts in a game was Al Leiter in 1999.
This sign at Citi Field said it all Friday night, as Jacob deGrom lowered his 2021 ERA to 0.31 over four starts while upping his strikeout total over that stretch to 50, a major league record. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
“I knew 14 was the most I have had,” deGrom said. “So when I looked up there and saw 12, I said, ‘OK, I have to figure out a way to strike out three guys.’ I was fortunate enough to be able to do it.”
DeGrom’s feats go beyond the Mets and his own records. His 50 strikeouts are the most by a pitcher over the first four starts of a season, breaking the mark of 48 tied earlier this week by the Cleveland Indians’ Shane Bieber and originally set by the Angels’ Nolan Ryan in 1978.
All of this barely scratches the surface of what deGrom is doing right now.
“Jake is unbelievable,” said Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, whose four-RBI game Friday was but a footnote to deGrom’s mastery. “He has to be from a different planet, because he does things that seem out of this world.”
While deGrom retired the last 19 Washington batters he faced Friday, he didn’t strike out any of the last six. Nevertheless, the 43 strikeouts he has recorded over his past three outings are tied for the fourth-most whiffs in any three-game span in history. DeGrom has struck out at least 14 batters in three straight starts, a feat matched by only two pitchers — Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Gerrit Cole in 2019.
“It’s still surprising to me,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “I think we’re all in (the dugout) witnessing something special. It’s unbelievable. Everyone in there is excited to be part of the team and witnessing what Jake is doing every time he gets the ball.”
On top of everything else, deGrom batted eighth in the Mets’ lineup Friday and collected two hits, including a double, and is now hitting .545 this season. He has allowed only one earned run while on the mound, but has scored three runs and driven in two.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s going to happen again and again,” Rojas said. “This guy, we talk about how big of a competitor that he is. That’s one thing, and the other thing is his abilities, how special an athlete he is. Yes, he’s a special pitcher, but he’s a special athlete.”
“Jake is unbelievable. He has to be from a different planet, because he does things that seem out of this world.”
Brandon Nimmo, Mets outfielder
According to Elias Sports Bureau, deGrom became the first pitcher to strike out at least 15 batters while recording multiple hits at the plate since Dwight Gooden on Sept. 12, 1984.
Gooden, of course, was a phenom for the Mets when he accomplished the feat, doing so as part of a starting pitching lineage that has characterized the Mets when they’ve been at their best. Before Gooden, there was Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, and deGrom brushed up against Seaver’s historical feats Friday, as well. By lowering his career ERA to 2.56, deGrom broke a tie with Tom Terrific for the best mark in club history.
The laundry list of amazing deGrom statistics could fill a large volume at this point. That was true before the season started, when we didn’t know that somehow, some way, deGrom still had summits that he still intended to climb. According to the Bill James-invented metric game score, which measures the proficiency of an outing for a starting pitcher and for which the average score is 50, deGrom recorded a career-best score of 98 for his gem Friday.
“He just commanded the whole game,” Nimmo said. “He changed the game. He single-handedly won and changed the game. When you see someone do that in baseball, that is really, really hard to do. It is such a team game it is hard to have one person completely beat the other team. It’s the most impressive performance that I’ve ever seen. I’m still blown away that I got to be a part of it.”
DeGrom’s average game score over four starts to start the season is 81. It’s the best four-game stretch of his career. When you’re talking about a pitcher with one of baseball’s strongest performance records, that’s saying something. The gathering at Citi Field certainly thought so, despite being restricted in number and socially distanced. Late in deGrom’s outing, chants of “MVP! MVP!” broke out. And the loudest cheer of the night occurred in the bottom of the eighth, when the Mets were at bat and deGrom took his place in the on-deck circle, signifying that he would get the chance to put the finishing strokes on his masterpiece.
MVP? Even the best starting pitchers seldom land in that conversation, but deGrom has ascended to a plateau where his name must be added to the hopper. The last pitcher to win the award was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in 2014. Right now, the notion that deGrom could join the short list of hurlers to take the award seems more plausible than ever. When confronted with the possibility, deGrom demurred, insisting that such things are secondary to his personal prime directive. But it would be nice.
“That was definitely cool,” deGrom said. “You set personal goals, but the main thing is to help the team to win. Obviously it would be really cool to win an MVP. Hopefully, we’ll see if we can keep this thing going.”