Long and lean, pumped up and borderline mean, Jacob deGrom walked from the mound to the dugout one last time in 2018, the baseball from a major milestone in hand and his case for the NL Cy Young Award complete.
The finishing touch was a masterpiece: eight shutout innings Wednesday night against the playoff-bound Braves in a 3-0 Mets win. The last pitch of the best season of deGrom’s career was a full-count slider to Ozzie Albies for a called strike. After deGrom’s skip off the bump and ensuing fist pump, catcher Devin Mesoraco tossed him the ball, his 1,000th career strikeout, and deGrom held onto it as he descended into the dugout.
“I was definitely excited. I knew I needed 10 strikeouts to get to 1,000, told Devin before the game,” said deGrom, as loose and outwardly happy as he has been after any of his career-high 32 starts this season. “That was kind of the goal tonight. I looked up there after three [innings] and I was like, ‘I only got three? I’m going to have to start trying to strike more people out.’ I’m very happy with how the night went.”
The final numbers for deGrom: 1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 269 strikeouts in 217 innings. His ERA is the best in the majors — especially in the National League, where the Nationals’ Max Scherzer (2.53) and Phillies’ Aaron Nola (2.45) are the runners-up — and is sixth best since the mound was lowered before the 1969 season. DeGrom finishes the year with a 10-9 record.
The half-full-at-best crowd at Citi Field wanted more. As the top of the eighth neared its end, the fans chanted: “M-V-P!” “That was pretty cool,” deGrom said. As the bottom of the eighth neared its end, and Seth Lugo warmed up in the bullpen, they chanted: “We want Jake!” And when Lugo entered for the save, they booed, not so much upset by Lugo’s presence as they were disappointed with deGrom’s absence.
“There was no chance he was going back out,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Pitch count-wise, the amount of stressful innings he’s thrown all year, probably the most in baseball history, close game.”
DeGrom’s final start was like so many of his others: routinely dominant. He struck out 10, walked none and allowed two hits. Each of his last 20 batters turned into an out.
In support of deGrom, Dominic Smith (two RBIs) and Michael Conforto (career-high 28th homer) each went deep, and Jeff McNeil made three nifty plays at second base.
The first came when Nick Markakis sent a sharp grounder toward right-center, but McNeil made a diving stop on the edge of the outfield grass and fired to first to end the fourth. Two innings later, when Ronald Acuna Jr. reached on a strike-three wild pitch as Mesoraco made a poor throw, McNeil made the heads-up throw to first, where Acuna was tagged out. Umpire Fieldin Culbreth ruled Acuna motioned toward second, putting him in play.
“Credit to Jake,” McNeil said. “I didn’t see him go around, Jake was pointing at him. I didn’t see him make a turn or anything.”
Then in the seventh, McNeil ranged toward his right and laid out Superman-style to snag Ender Inciarte’s line drive.
DeGrom extended his own single-season major-league records: 29 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer, 24 straight quality starts.
“You can watch all the film you want and watch Jacob deGrom on TV,” Callaway said. “Until I saw his first bullpen in spring training, I didn’t understand what I had. When he throws the ball, it’s different than everybody else. It comes out different. He gets so much extension, it almost explodes out of his hand.”
A half-hour after the game ended, in the bowels of the ballpark, deGrom — still in full uniform — stood outside the Mets’ clubhouse, chatting with family and other visitors, the beginning of the decompression and soaking-in process that will take him into the offseason.
He won’t know if he won the Cy Young until voting results are announced Nov. 14.
“I wish we were in a different position [as a team], but I’m very happy with how I threw the ball,” said deGrom, a master of understating his success. “I think over the next couple of days it’ll probably set in.
“I wish I had more wins, but it is what it is. I feel like I put myself in a pretty good position.”
How Low Can You Go
Lowest ERA among qualified pitchers (162 innings) since the mound was lowered in advance of the 1969 season:
1. 1.53 Dwight Gooden 1985
2. 1.56 Greg Maddux 1994
3. 1.63 Greg Maddux 1995
4. 1.66 Zack Greinke 2015
5. 1.69 Nolan Ryan 1981
6. 1.70 Jacob deGrom 2018
7. (t) 1.74 Pedro Martinez 2000
Ron Guidry 1978
9. 1.76 Tom Seaver 1971
10. 1.77 (t) Jake Arrieta 2015
Clayton Kershaw 2014