Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Somehow the Mets’ ace has only gotten better since his memorable NLDS starts.
Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine to a time that both seems impossibly long ago and yet can still be seen in the rearview mirror. The year 2015 was a mere five years ago, and yet that Mets team is now nearly unrecognizable. Since then, they’ve had four managers, Carlos Beltran included, several general managers, including the three-headed monster they assembled after Sandy Alderson, and of course, are set for an ownership change. Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto, and Jacob deGrom are the only holdovers from that team.
With all the tumult of the past five seasons, one of the few constants has been deGrom. Despite some hiccups in 2017, one of the few things this organization could reliably count on was Jacob deGrom taking the mound every five days, giving the team a chance to win at worst and pitching a masterpiece at best.
Back in 2015, however, that wasn’t always expected from the lanky, mop-haired righty. Despite coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign the previous year, the spotlight seemed to shine on his rotation-mates instead. Matt Harvey was back from Tommy John, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz made their highly anticipated debuts, and Bartolo Colon was given the Opening Day honors.
Even with the others grabbing the headlines, deGrom was his steady self and had a stellar 2.14 ERA in the first half of the season, which earned him a trip to the All-Star game as the Mets’ lone representative. As fans know by now, the 2015 All-Star Game was deGrom’s coming out party. Even though the National League lost the game, deGrom stole the show by striking out the side on ten pitches with a stunningly prophetic statement by Joe Buck thrown in for good measure.
That was a mere appetizer for the next time deGrom would find himself on the national stage. With Matt Harvey on an innings limit, deGrom got the nod Game 1 of the NLDS against a formidable Dodgers team. It would have been a daunting task for anyone, let alone a pitcher in his second year in the league, making his postseason debut against a three-time Cy Young winner at Dodger Stadium.
Clayton Kershaw gets criticized for his postseason performances, but he looked like peak Kershaw in Game 1. He was coming off another Cy Young worthy season and was giving the Mets’ lineup fits. It was up to deGrom to match him.
That night deGrom dialed up his fastball to 98 miles per hour, which somehow has now become routine for him since then, as he struck out thirteen in seven innings. He allowed no runs, just five hits, and one walk in the process. deGrom and Kershaw became the first pair in postseason history to each have eleven strikeouts, and his thirteen matched Tom Seaver for a franchise record in the postseason.
“I got outpitched, basically that’s the moral of the story,” Kershaw said. “Jacob pitched an amazing game. We battled him, got his pitch count up there, but he outpitched me, plain and simple.”
The Dodgers forced a Game 5 ,and of course the second of their two-headed beast got the start. Zack Greinke had a miniscule 1.66 ERA in the regular season that year and would eventually end up second in the Cy Young voting. This game got off to quite a different start than Game 1. The Mets struck first, but the damage could have been worse against Greinke in the first inning. They scored one run but stranded a man at third and Mets fans prayed that would be enough for their ace who looked so dominant in Game 1.
Unfortunately it was clear from the start deGrom had nothing, and the Dodgers pounced. Four straight singles with one out led to two runs. The second didn’t get any easier when a walk and error put runners on and prompted Terry Collins to start warming up Noah Syndergaard, but just like he had in the first, deGrom struck out the final two batters to escape the inning.
His third inning prompted a visit from the mound by Collins. A double, a stolen base, and a walk set up the mess that prompted the visit. Collins stuck with his man instead of turning to Syndergaard, and a double play ended the threat. So went deGrom’s night. His command was off, and everyone in the ballpark knew it. But he refused to give in. He didn’t have a clean inning until the sixth, which was his final inning of work.
He had done just enough to give his team a chance, and after they tied the game in the fourth on a heads up play by Murphy, the second baseman struck again in the sixth with a home run to give them the go-ahead run.
deGrom’s final line on paper looked like a decent outing: six innings, six hits, three walks, two runs and seven strikeouts. Anyone who watched that game could think he got lucky because it could have been far, far worse. Luck, however, had nothing to do with it. It was the birth of a star. A pitcher who gave the league notice that no matter the circumstances, he always had the upper hand and you would need to be at your absolute best to beat him.
deGrom’s two NLDS starts: 2-0, 1.38 ERA, 20 strikeouts, 4 walks. Good lord that’s good.
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 16, 2015
Ever since that phenomenal postseason debut, deGrom has simply morphed into the unquestioned best pitcher in the league. Back-to-back Cy Young awards, including a historic season in 2018, and a 2020 where he sat atop the league as the strikeout king with 104 strikeouts in sixty games, makes the Mets’ failure that much more glaring. Imagine what this version of deGrom could look like should he elevate his game in the postseason like he did five years ago. As he has repeatedly proven, he does not shy away from the big moments and doggedly refuses to give in when the circumstances he finds himself in are less than ideal.
The Mets have made the postseason just once since 2015, losing the Wild Card game in 2016 despite a fantastic start by Syndergaard in that game. But baseball is better when its stars are given an opportunity to show off for a national audience, and nobody is more deserving of the national stage of the postseason than deGrom.