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Jake deGrom has some nerve. How dare he show up to work ill-prepared to outduel the middling likes of Zach Eflin, while allowing his ERA to blow up to an ungodly 0.69?
Allowing three hits and two runs over six innings, and striking out just five? Forcing his team to bail him out with a two-run ninth and a walk-off Michael Conforto sac fly?
Does the man have no shame?
In all seriousness, deGrom was a very good pitcher in the Mets’ inspiring, 4-3 victory over the Phillies on Saturday. He just wasn’t deGrom, and for one day, anyway, that’s OK. He still displayed why he is the best show in sports.
It was a most eventful day for the best starter of his time, who resumed his pursuit of history on a sunny day before a spirited Citi Field crowd. He saw the fans give him a standing ovation when he headed to the mound. He heard the fans chant “M-V-P” when he got two strikes on a batter, and again when he singled up the middle in the fifth. He heard them erupt when he used all of his considerable wingspan and athleticism to elevate and field Luke Williams’ two-out bouncer in the sixth, with men on second and third, before flipping the ball to first with disdain to record his final out.
He heard the fans boo when the umps checked him for banned sticky substances.
DeGrom himself is illegal. He doesn’t need illegal substances.
Oh yeah, and he took an Andrew McCutchen line drive off his rump in the second inning before giving up his first run, breaking his 31-inning scoreless streak.
“Jake is human,” manager Luis Rojas said, “so these things are going to happen.”
Not many humans would say they wished the McCutchen shot had hit them more squarely so they could have gathered the rebound and get the out, but that’s what deGrom said. Then again, not many humans working with their B-minus material could have escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth without allowing multiple Phillies to score.
“We’re talking about the best pitcher on the planet,” Rojas said. “He was the best pitcher on the planet for us today. He gave us a chance.”
DeGrom survived even though he’d been fighting himself since the fourth inning, when he started flying open and losing his feel for his fastball and slider. His changeup hadn’t been working all day, and Philly runners were taking advantage of his deliberate deliveries to the plate.
“I was trying to fix it in the game,” deGrom said, “but me trying to fix it almost made it worse.”
The crowd helped propel him through the struggle, enough for the franchise player to say the atmosphere had an October vibe.
“I love pitching here,” deGrom said. “Mets fans have been great to me.”
He has been better to them. DeGrom has been so freakishly good, a safe bet says many fans had never seen a pitcher quite this special in their lifetimes.
Bobby Valentine, 71-year-old former Mets manager and current mayoral candidate in his hometown of Stamford, Conn., is one of them. He first played in the majors in 1969. Asked by phone where he ranks deGrom among the greats he competed with, competed against, and simply watched over the years, Valentine said:
“He’s No. 1. I never saw [Sandy] Koufax live. … and I’m not saying this to diminish any of those great pitchers. But from ’69 on, I watch Jake and I think he’s just a little different. When I’m watching him, I think he’s a little better than all the great ones.”
The great ones, including Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, you name it.
“He has that same competitiveness that Seaver and Gibson and Ryan had,” Valentine said. “Seaver’s fastball away and Jacob’s fastball away are really, really similar, and their sliders are pretty similar, but Jacob’s is just a little more consistent and a little faster, and his changeup is a little better. And then you add in the fact that deGrom is like Gibson as a fielder. He doesn’t have the power of Gibson as a hitter, but he’s as good a base runner as Gibson was.
“I don’t want to be blasphemous. I wouldn’t want to put Tom Seaver at No. 2 in anything, and all those guys are geniuses. But I just want to reiterate that every time I watch deGrom, I’m struck by the same thought: ‘He’s just a little better.’ ”
That wasn’t the case Saturday, a no-decision day at Citi Field, and who cares? Jacob deGrom came out of a Mets victory healthy, and reminded everyone why he is still the best show in sports.
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