PITTSBURGH — For one night at least, there were no strained quotes through gritted teeth about grinding through tough times, no slim leads for a beat-up bullpen to protect, no tense innings.
Jacob deGrom gave the Mets a reprieve from their troubles Friday night as they trounced the Pirates, 8-1.
They looked like the team they had been expected to be, powered by brilliant starting pitching that had been taken for granted around the Mets until injuries reduced the rotation to tatters. The trickle-down effect has been felt in the bullpen, where relievers have been forced to absorb the innings that the starters have failed to throw.
But deGrom held the Pirates to one run in 8 1⁄3 innings, a reminder of the high-end pitching that has offered more disappointment than dominance. No Mets pitcher had gone as deep in a game since deGrom went nine innings on July 17, 2016.
“He did exactly what we needed,” manager Terry Collins said. “He got us extremely deep in the game, which really gave our bullpen the day off.”
Former Pirate Neil Walker provided plenty of support, hitting a pair of homers and finishing with four RBIs.
But the night belonged to deGrom, who became the first Met to pitch more than seven innings this season.
“He was really, really sharp,” Walker said. “He picked us up tonight as far as giving the relievers a breather that [was] much needed. This is a good start to a series.”
The Mets (20-26) moved past a brutal week at Citi Field, which they wrapped up by losing two of three to the last-place Padres.
It was deGrom who set the tone, following up seven shutout innings in his last start with more brilliance. In throwing a season-high 118 pitches, deGrom struck out 10, his fifth double-digit strikeout game of the season.
It was a sign of life from a starting rotation that remains the key to a turnaround.
Two starts ago in Milwaukee, deGrom fumed about needing to improve. From there, he adjusted his schedule, throwing two light bullpen sessions rather than one. It was a tactic that worked well for him in 2015.
“It’s made a huge difference in being able to repeat my delivery in late innings and still having good command of stuff later on,” deGrom said.
The Mets had gone 83 straight regular-season games without a starter completing eight innings, the second-longest streak in baseball.
In the dugout before the ninth, deGrom and Collins plotted out their options. Though he was at 111 pitches, deGrom wanted to finish it, which would give the Mets their first complete game since he threw one last July.
Collins figured 120 pitches would be the ceiling, and if deGrom recorded two quick outs, he might extend the leash for one more batter. But Gregor Polanco singled and deGrom was out of the game after striking out the next batter, David Freese, with a 96-mph fastball.
There would be no complete game, though deGrom had done more than enough.
A night before, the threat of bad weather prompted the Mets to push back deGrom’s start, meaning that the bullpen carried a heavy load. On Friday night, the bullpen was needed for only two outs.
Said deGrom: “To go out there tonight and kind of give them a night off is a nice thing to be able to do.”