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WASHINGTON – Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets could not be more committed to one another. And yet they struggle to coexist.
See, deGrom and the Mets agreed to a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension in March, a just reward for a Cy Young Award-winning season. Yet as deGrom zeroes in on a second consecutive Cy Young award, a pattern that began in 2018 has only worsened this year.
It goes like this: DeGrom creates magic with his right arm, blazing 98-mph fastballs past hitters, carrying the Mets deep into games and landing near the top of every National League pitching leaderboard.
And the Mets do all they can to lose – or, at least, avoid victory – on nights he pitches.
A mysterious pattern took a turn for the macabre on Tuesday night, when deGrom – who has received the worst run support of any starter the past two seasons – enjoyed the rare gift of 10 runs from his offense.
No matter. The Mets merely suffered one of the worst losses in their history, giving up seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in falling 11-10 to the Washington Nationals.
Given that the Mets fell five games back of the second wild card slot with 23 games to play, this was not your average gut punch.
Fortunately for deGrom, the only thing better than his ERA, WHIP and FIP is his ability to keep a stiff upper lip.
The 31-year-old confirmed that the club definitely “let one get away” and “felt like we had it,” and in a sense, he could’ve been talking about how the Mets are wasting two fantastic years from their ace.
He leads the NL in strikeouts (220) and rank fourth in the NL in ERA (2.76) and second in Fielding Independent Pitching. Yet the 70-68 Mets are just 10-18 in games he starts.
If the Mets merely played .500 ball in deGrom’s starts, they’d be 74-64, and one game behind the Cubs for a playoff spot. Instead, they must make up five games and vault four teams merely for a shot at the second wild card berth.
Whether it’s the 3.67 runs of support per game he receives – third worst in the NL – or a Mets bullpen that can’t carry his handiwork across the finish line, deGrom has mastered the art of compartmentalization.
“He knows that all he can do is try to limit runs,” says Mets manager Mickey Callaway. “And he does that better than any pitcher in baseball.”
Callaway, though admitting bias, believes deGrom is “hands down” the favorite for the NL Cy Young, and he might be right. For one, the pack has come back to deGrom.
Dodgers lefty Hyun-jin Ryu has hit a late-season wall. Nationals ace Max Scherzer – who gave up four runs in six innings opposite deGrom Tuesday – is a game but limited version of his best self as he manages a back injury. Braves righty Mike Soroka has sterling peripherals but just 152 2/3 innings pitched in his first full big league season.
Yet deGrom has also gradually put his grip on the award. He’s posted eight 10-strikeout games and since late May has a 2.41 ERA, best in baseball.
Tuesday, he was at times dazzling, striking out six over seven innings and giving up just two runs through seven innings.
It was the 15th time in 28 starts he’d gone at least seven innings, but Callaway hoped to milk a few more outs from him. Alas, a dribbler single from Anthony Rendon preceded a two-run homer from Juan Soto, and deGrom’s night went from great to OK.
After the Mets scored five runs in the top of the ninth, the bottom fell out, and deGrom was left to ponder another no-decision, and another team loss on his night.
He remains 8-8 this season, one year after winning the Cy Young with a comically pedestrian 10-9 record that belied many of his historically dominant stats, including a 1.70 ERA and a 221 adjusted ERA.
His run support – 3.53 per game – was the very worst in the NL last year. Yet Mets coach Phil Regan, 82, believes an ace like deGrom can still derive pleasure out of his own greatness even when it doesn’t correlate to team success.
“Yeah, it’s a little disappointing when we mess up a game,” says Regan, “but when you do your job and know you’re doing your job, there’s a satisfaction to it. He never complains about the hitters or anything. That’s the game.
“He does his job. And does it real well.”
Even if his teammates can’t return the favor.