The baseball was already in its pristine clear square, sitting atop a shelf in Jacob deGrom’s locker. The ball — from his first career home run — probably would go to his dad, Tony. But deGrom still had his eye on that bat, the one he used to smack the ball that tied it in the third inning. It officially belongs to David Wright — a good bunting bat, deGrom said, with a laugh — but it’s got a little bop in it, too.
“I think I got lucky,” he said. “I was running pretty hard, so no, I didn’t know it was gone.”
For what seems like the first time in a long time, it was all smiles in the Mets’ clubhouse Sunday afternoon after they beat the Nationals, 5-1, to salvage the finale of a four-game series. DeGrom walked around with his son, Jaxon, on his hip. Addison Reed wore his Jacob deGrom T-shirt. Terry Collins finally could breathe easily, knowing that for once he wouldn’t have to field questions on how the Mets possibly could withstand another setback.
“You lose three in a row and who shows up? Jake deGrom,” the manager said. “And that means a lot.”
Are you noticing a trend? There was a trend. DeGrom dominated in every possible way: pitching eight innings of three-hit ball, with six strikeouts and two walks. Besides his homer, his sacrifice bunt in the sixth led to another run. It’s the first time the Mets have defeated the Nationals at Citi this year, and it comes at a pivotal juncture, as the team struggles to tread water with key pieces on the disabled list and a West Coast trip looming.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Collins said. “You can’t pay attention to the standings (where the Mets are 10½ games behind the Nationals). The only thing you can control is how you play. If you win games, you’ll get back in the race. And I do believe. As much as we talk about it, there’s so many gut punches you can take before you’re down on your knees for a few seconds.
“We’ll bounce back.”
T.J. Rivera was 4-for-4 with a run, tying a career high in hits for a game, while Michael Conforto was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Trea Turner stole four bases, setting a record for the Nationals, but not the Expos.
DeGrom allowed an unearned run in the first, when Brian Goodwin hit a two-hopper to Wilmer Flores — moved to second because he’s more comfortable there — and Flores missed it on the backhand. One batter later, Ryan Zimmerman drove him in.
But deGrom, ever the overachiever, wouldn’t let his efforts go to waste. He homered off Joe Ross on the very first pitch of the bottom of the third, a shot to left that just eked over the wall. The Mets added two runs in the fourth, after Daniel Murphy lost Lucas Duda’s shallow pop fly in the sun. Rivera singled with one out, and Travis d’Arnaud singled to right.
Duda, barreling home, looked dead to rights, but Matt Wieters dropped the ball for an unearned run and the Mets led. Conforto tacked on with a single one out later, driving in Rivera. Conforto added a two-out RBI single in the sixth, and Granderson finished it off with an RBI single off Matt Grace in the seventh.
DeGrom, fully recovered from two bad starts at the end of May and beginning of June, saw his ERA drop from 4.74 on June 6 to 3.94. The key, he said, has been his mechanics. He’s getting on top of the ball more and not falling to the first-base side. His changeup has been especially strong in his last two starts (the start prior to this one was a complete-game gem).
“Those types of guys, they stop losing streaks,” Collins said. “He’s fun to be around and he’s one of the guys that guys just cheer for him. When he has a day like he has today, they’re really, really genuinely happy for him.”
Happy? That’s something the Mets could use a lot more of these days. Good thing they had deGrom to provide it Sunday.