LOS ANGELES - On a night in which he etched his name next to that of Tom Seaver, Mets righthander Jacob deGrom battled nerves.
He hardly looked up as he navigated the halls of Dodger Stadium on the way to the visitors’ clubhouse. There he sat before Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. Later, he admitted he felt “pretty nervous.”
Latest Mets stories
“But once I got out there warming up, I kind of settled down,” said deGrom, whose brilliance gave the Mets a 3-1 victory in their first playoff game since 2006. “I really think it went away with the first pitch I threw.”
DeGrom’s assignment was a daunting one: outduel three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, control his nerves before a sellout crowd, behave as if this wasn’t his first postseason start. Yet the reigning NL Rookie of the Year checked all three boxes in one of the best pitching performances in franchise history.
In seven shutout innings, deGrom struck out 13 batters, tying the franchise record set by Seaver, who accomplished the feat in Game 1 of the 1973 National League Championship Series.
“This is a good start to a team that hadn’t been in the postseason for a long time,” manager Terry Collins said. “[We] needed a confidence boost and Jake gave it to us.”
At first pitch, the Mets crammed onto the top step and leaned on the railing, savoring a moment nine years in the making. They made the most of it.
The Mets touched up Kershaw for three runs, chasing him in the seventh. The first cut came from Daniel Murphy, who hammered a solo shot in the fourth to give the Mets a 1-0 lead.
“He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and I felt really fortunate to put a good swing on the ball he threw me,” Murphy said.
David Wright, in his first postseason in nine years, ripped a two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded in the seventh that gave the Mets a 3-0 advantage. It came off fireballing righty Pedro Baez, who took over after Kershaw issued his third walk of the inning to load the bases.
“When a guy’s [throwing] that hard, you allow him to provide the power,” said Wright, whose liner sailed over the head of second baseman Howie Kendrick and into centerfield. “And you just try to go nice and easy and just make sure you just get to it and beat him to the spot.”
Jeurys Familia picked up the save, recording the final four outs after setup man Tyler Clippard allowed the Dodgers’ only run on Adrian Gonzalez’s RBI single with two outs in the eighth.
With the victory, the Mets assured themselves of at least a split in Los Angeles, with another ace, Zack Greinke, on tap for the Dodgers in Saturday night’s Game 2. Noah Syndergaard will pitch for the Mets.
For the first time in the history of the postseason, each starting pitcher logged at least 11 strikeouts. Kershaw was no picnic, striking out 11 in 6 2/3 innings and allowing four hits and four walks. The lefty lost his fifth straight playoff start.
The Mets made him work, putting into practice an organizational philosophy that emphasizes patience and discipline at the plate. Wright set the tone with a 12-pitch at-bat that forced Kershaw to throw 20 pitches in the first inning.
Murphy’s solo shot came on a fastball over the plate, an opportunity he created for himself by working the count to 2-and-0.
By the seventh, the Mets’ only run had come on Murphy’s big swing. But Kershaw appeared to tire and his command escaped him. Of the four walks he issued, three came in the seventh.
The last came against Curtis Granderson. Kershaw looked to the heavens, dropped his shoulders, then watched as Don Mattingly pulled him for Baez.
Kershaw, who threw 113 pitches, watched in anguish from the dugout as Wright lined a 98-mph fastball up the middle to put the Mets in the driver’s seat.
It was all that deGrom needed to cap one of the most dominant performances of his career. His fastball roared at 98 mph and his sliders nicked the plate at 93.
The Dodgers found themselves helpless.
“We did a pretty good job with him of not chasing the change or the breaking ball down,” Mattingly said. “But with that, you end up chasing some elevated fastballs, and I think he beat us with that a little bit.”
DeGrom allowed five hits, two on misplays by leftfielder Michael Cuddyer, who said he was fooled by balls that carried farther than he had expected. The only walk issued by deGrom was intentional, a free pass to Joc Pederson.
Said catcher Travis d’Arnaud, “He was able to do, really, whatever he wanted to.’’
The righthander threw 121 pitches, the second-highest tally of his career. His dominance made it easy for the Mets to strongly consider bringing him back on short rest if they have their backs against the wall in a potential Game 4, although after the game, Collins seemed to lean against a tactic.
“As I sit here at this moment, I think he went too far tonight,” he said. “He had to work hard.”
Of course, deGrom also did his best to make himself an option, matching Kershaw pitch for pitch.
“Yeah,’’ deGrom said with a smile as he left the visitors’ clubhouse, the nerves long gone. “That was fun.’’