David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CINCINNATI - When the clubhouse doors finally swung open late Tuesday night, the first wave of media went directly to the locker belonging to Jacob deGrom. In a room full of All-Stars, deGrom was the brightest of this National League group after a performance everyone will be talking about for a while.
Just like they still do about Dwight Gooden. And that was 31 years ago.
Crazy to mention deGrom and Dr. K in the same sentence? Not anymore. Get used to it. After so many Harvey Days, this is becoming the Season of deGrom, and that's on the heels of his Rookie of the Year award. This is turning into an encore that not even deGrom could have imagined.
He needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the sixth, the first pitcher in All-Star history -- that's since 1933 -- to do it in so few. Back in 1984, Gooden, who was 19 at the time, whiffed Lance Parrish, Chet Lemon and Alvin Davis at Candlestick Park.
No one will ever make it look easier than deGrom did, however. This was surgical. Stephen Vogt, Jason Kipnis and Jose Iglesias were simply overwhelmed as deGrom pumped fastballs ranging as high as 98 mph -- his top velocity all year -- right past them. And what he did to Iglesias was almost cruel.
After starting the Tigers' shortstop at 97 for a swinging strike, deGrom threw him two curves, tight-spinning, late-breaking, invisi-balls. Expecting more heat, Iglesias seemed to begin his swing before deGrom even released the pitch. He wound up waving feebly at air each time.
We didn't know who to feel worse for. The bewildered Iglesias, or the overpowered Kipnis, who somehow coaxed the only ball from him.
"Just heater, heater, heater," Kipnis said. "It was good morning, good afternoon -- ball outside -- good night. I did have four pitches -- please note that."
"I don't think I have yet," deGrom said. "I'll take some time to think about it when all this is over."
And now the Mets can exhale, too. For as much as they enjoy seeing one of their own shine, there is some angst involved when your ace is pitching in what will always be an exhibition. The Mets felt the same pride when Matt Harvey started the 2013 Midsummer Classic at Citi Field, but a month later, he was diagnosed with a UCL tear.
Maybe deGrom just figured the less pitches, the better. Plus, he's already had Tommy John surgery. He admitted to some nerves before taking the ball Tuesday night, and kept a close eye on Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner to see how they prepared for their relief stints. It was the AL's bad luck that deGrom knew he only had one inning. "So I was just letting it go," he said.
NL manager Bruce Bochy has won three rings for the Giants in five years, so he's a tough guy to second guess. But now we're left wondering if starting deGrom was the way to go Tuesday. Think Mike Trout takes deGrom over the rightfield wall for a leadoff homer?
Possibly. But that was a matchup we would have loved to see. So did deGrom. Before the game, deGrom mentioned Trout as the one batter he wanted to face in this All-Star Game. Unfortunately -- for all of us -- that dream matchup never happened. As Iglesias flailed away helplessly, Trout was standing in the on-deck circle.
"I never got to him," deGrom said, smiling. "I guess I really didn't want to face him."
We're kind of thinking the reverse. How eager could Trout have been to get a piece of that? He was probably fine taking his chances against Francisco Rodriguez. Even for an MVP, it's better these days to avoid deGrom, an All-Star in every sense of the word.