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Jacob deGrom strikes out nine in a row and Mets rally in first game of split with Rockies

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom works against the

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday in Denver. Credit: AP / David Zalubowski

DENVER — Jacob deGrom found a new way to put his name next to Tom Seaver’s on Saturday.

He highlighted the Mets’ doubleheader split with the Rockies — a dramatic 4-3 win in the first game, an uneventful 7-2 loss in the second game — by striking out nine consecutive batters during the opener.

That was one shy of the major-league record of 10 set by Seaver in 1970. "That would’ve been nice to reach," said deGrom, who lowered his ERA to 0.45 and recorded his first win in three tries this season. "But I fell a little short."

Raising the degree of difficulty of that feat: With his start delayed two days by bad weather, deGrom felt off for the first inning-plus. But he made a mechanical tweak, seemed to flip a switch mid-inning, and began dominating.

 

In six innings, deGrom allowed three runs — all unearned — and struck out 14, tying his career high, a total he reached most recently last weekend.

The strikeout streak began with two on and nobody out in the second inning. He fanned the next three batters: Josh Fuentes, looking at a fastball; Sam Hilliard, swinging at a fastball; Dom Nunez, swinging at a slider.

It was the same in the third. Chi Chi Gonzalez, who limited the Mets (6-4) to one run in five innings, whiffed on a fastball. So did Raimel Tapia and Ryan McMahon. That was six straight.

"I didn’t know how many I had in a row," said deGrom, noting that he also was unaware of the record.

The quality of batter got tougher in the fourth. The result stayed the same. Trevor Story (fastball swinging), Charlie Blackmon (slider swinging) and C.J. Cron (fastball swinging) completed deGrom’s strikeouts-only lap through the lineup.

"It’s special. You gotta call it that," manager Luis Rojas said. "You don’t see that often. We didn’t have a ball put in play for, like, three innings. The guys were just out there at their positions with no balls in play, just running in and out of the dugout."

Shortstop Francisco Lindor added: "It’s fun to witness."

Fuentes, the Rockies’ third-base replacement for the traded Nolan Arenado, returned to lead off the fifth, representing deGrom’s chance to tie Seaver. He sent a streak-snapping ground ball past the pitcher. Second baseman Jeff McNeil fielded it and fired to first with plenty of time, but his errant throw allowed Fuentes to reach base.

"I was frustrated that I couldn’t field my position. That ball was hit almost right at me," said deGrom, the eighth pitcher to strike out nine in a row. "McNeil was there. He felt bad about it. I told him, hey, keep your head up. We ended up winning the ballgame."

That began a deGrom-and-defense implosion that resulted in three unearned runs and nearly cost the Mets the game. But they retook the lead by scoring in the sixth (Pete Alonso’s homer) and seventh (four consecutive hits), the final frame of regulation. Jonathan Villar had a tying pinch-hit double and Lindor added a go-ahead single.

Rojas said that was "encouraging to see" after previous missed scoring chances.

"It’s good to see the offense come through," he said, "in that one inning."

Edwin Diaz converted his first save opportunity in the bottom of the inning, striking out the side to finish it off.

In the second game, lefthander Joey Lucchesi lasted three innings and gave up three runs — all in the opening inning — in his rotation debut. McNeil’s two-run double was all the Mets could muster against righthander German Marquez, who pitched all seven innings.

The game turned in the fifth when righthander Jacob Barnes allowed four runs. Fuentes hit a three-run homer.

Rojas said he chose Barnes instead of a late-inning reliever — Miguel Castro, Aaron Loup, Trevor May — because "we consider Barnes one of those guys as well."

Before losing, the Mets had won four consecutive games, their first such streak since Sept. 9-12, 2019. That is just three months of baseball season but two managers, one front office, one ownership change and one pandemic ago.

"We probably had a chance," Rojas said, "to win both."

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