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Jacob deGrom fans 14 but still takes loss as Mets fall to Rays

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom looks on from

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom looks on from the mound during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citi Field on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

As the Mets lost to the Rays, 2-1, on Monday at Citi Field, pushing their postseason chances to the brink, the details made obvious the difference between the kind of team they are and the kind of team they want to be.

Cruising to the AL East title, the Rays used six pitchers to hold the Mets to four hits — two from Wilson Ramos, two from Jeff McNeil — managed just enough offense against an ace and made the defensive plays when it mattered most. That included a lunging stop by shortstop Willy Adames of McNeil’s bases-loaded single in the fifth inning, preventing the tying run from scoring.

The Mets, meanwhile, got a spectacular start from Jacob deGrom — seven innings, two runs, 14 strikeouts to match his personal best — as he kept his Cy Young three-peat hopes alive. But they wasted it, as they so often have these past three seasons, and indeed harmed his and their chances on shortstop Amed Rosario’s dropped throw that potentially cost deGrom a run.

The loss meant the Mets fell to 24-30 and three games back of the last National League playoff spot. Even if they win their last six games, the postseason is far from a certainty.

This is not where the Mets expected to find themselves.

"I don’t know if surprised is the right word," deGrom said, who showed no ill effects of the right hamstring issue that shortened his previous start. "I think everybody is more disappointed at some of the games we let get away."

The Cy Young winner in 2018 and 2019, deGrom’s ERA rose ever so slightly from 2.09 to 2.14, fifth in the NL. He leads with 94 strikeouts, is tied for fourth with a 0.92 WHIP and is fifth with a .184 opponents’ batting average.

The title defense isn’t over. The case for deGrom is still there — if he can get a little help.

If deGrom is great again in his personal season finale, scheduled for Saturday against the Nationals, and if at least some of Trevor Bauer, Corbin Burnes, Dinelson Lamet and Clayton Kershaw — himself a three-time Cy winner — encounter disaster in their remaining outings, deGrom has a chance.

"Jake’s just throwing the ball really well," manager Luis Rojas said. "We’ve seen the Jake that’s won the award the last two years."

DeGrom’s outing marked the first time in franchise history that a starter reached double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive games (following David Peterson on Saturday and Rick Porcello on Sunday). He is the first Mets pitcher to have multiple games of 14 or more strikeouts in a season since Dwight Gooden in 1985.

"He continues to be unsatisfied, continues to have that drive and that hunger," J.D. Davis said. "You see it. He’s unbelievable."

The latter of the Rays’ runs came in the fourth, when Nate Lowe homered to left-center.

But the first was preventable. After deGrom walked Lowe to begin the second, Joey Wendle drove a first-pitch fastball to left-centerfield for a double. When Lowe got a late stop sign from third-base coach Rodney Linares, he stopped and retreated to third, just as Rosario dropped a relay throw from McNeil.

Had Rosario fielded the throw cleanly, he might have been able to get Lowe after his big turn at third. Instead, Lowe scored when the next batter, Manuel Margot, lofted a sacrifice fly to center.

"The goal is to eliminate mistakes, and when you make a couple in a game that is that important, it’s a little frustrating," deGrom said of his own pitches, especially the leadoff walk that inning. "I wish I had a couple pitches back, the walk and the homer. It is what it is."

The lineup, though, was quiet. And it has to face Tampa Bay’s top two starters, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, the next two nights.

"It’s a tough loss today," Davis said. "As a whole, it’s like we’re just missing something."

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