For years now, Jacob deGrom has been unmatched, not only in his mastery of a difficult craft but for his consistency in performing it.
Other members of the Mets’ vaunted 2015 rotation faltered, but he never did. He’s pitched for good Mets teams and bad ones, with juiced balls and dead ones, in front of raucous postseason crowds and the vacuous, foreboding stadiums of a shuttered world.
So when Friday night welcomed a return to normalcy — a crowd of 26,637, the largest at Citi Field in nearly 21 months — it was deGrom who welcomed them back. He did it in predictable fashion, which is to say very, very well.
Less predictable was what came next. After holding the Padres to one hit, striking out 10 and lining a two-run single that knocked out former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, deGrom left the game after six innings with flexor tendinitis in his right elbow, temporarily putting a pall on a celebratory evening and a 3-2 win over the Padres.
It didn’t last long, though. After the game, deGrom insisted he is fine and has every expectation of making his next start.
Bad bouts of flexor tendinitis can result in months-long recoveries, but deGrom, who has dealt with it in the past, said he felt it throughout the week and simply felt it more in the sixth inning. Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner took him out as a precaution.
"I’m not too concerned about it because it didn’t get much worse as the game went on," deGrom said. "I could feel it and it was tightening up a little bit, but I’ve had a couple elbow issues before and I know what that feels like, so my level of concern is not too high. I’m pretty optimistic about it and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something we can treat and hopefully not miss any time."
The Mets did ligament tests after the game, which deGrom passed, and don’t currently feel the need for further imaging.
"Having dealt with elbow issues, I am pretty familiar with how that feels," deGrom said, adding that he really felt it only when he flew open and shifted away from his mechanics.
"At this point, this is a guy that knows his body really well and arm really well," Luis Rojas said. "He said he wasn’t concerned and that’s what we trust."
The sigh of relief was a capper on a historic night at Citi Field.
DeGrom was perfect until the fifth, when Wil Myers grounded a one-out single through the right side. He was thrown out attempting to steal second and was the only baserunner in deGrom’s six innings.
DeGrom’s ERA over 10 starts dropped to 0.56, the lowest recorded ERA in that span since earned runs became a statistic. He has a .400 batting average, an .840 OPS and more RBIs (five) than earned runs allowed (four).
DeGrom created even more history: His strikeout of Fernando Tatis Jr. in the fourth gave him 100th in 61 2⁄3 innings, the fewest it’s taken a pitcher to reach that milestone since the mound moved to 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893, according to ESPN Stats.
And the entire time, the crowd was finally, fully there. The MVP chants started about as soon as deGrom took the mound. Citi Field was loud in a way that resembled the 2015 postseason. Those chants came to a fever pitch in the fifth when deGrom got his hit.
"That was awesome," he said. "I’ve said it before. I love pitching here. New York Mets fans have been great to me. Love taking the mound here in front of fans, and having that many people here tonight, it was unbelievable."
After a double by Kevin Pillar, Billy McKinney doubled to drive in the Mets’ first run in the fifth. Jose Peraza walked, Snell balked and deGrom singled to make it 3-0. That proved to be the game-winner as Jake Cronenworth hit a two-run homer off Miguel Castro in the seventh.
"I’m pretty sure I said you’ve got to be bleeping kidding me," McKinney said of deGrom’s hit. "It’s ridiculous what he does."
If all goes well, he’ll get to do it again in five days.
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