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Mets ace Jacob deGrom making late run at second straight Cy Young Award

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is no shortage of words to describe Jacob deGrom, and Mickey Callaway had a few on Monday. Tremendous was one. Dominant was another. Callaway also trotted out the highest form of praise — comparing deGrom to himself. “Vintage Jake,” he said.

All good words, but here are a few more: underdog and dark horse, and probably a few other scrappy animals, too. And though those things aren’t generally associated with Cy Young Award winners, it’s not a bad estimation of what deGrom is trying to pull off down the stretch this season. After a rocky start to the year, deGrom’s second-half resurgence has put him back in the Cy Young picture. For a race that was once dominated by the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Max Scherzer, it’s deGrom’s steely and consistent second-half performances that have oddsmakers changing up their evaluations.

Sure, he’s far from the favorite — Ryu leads the National League with a 2.45 ERA, but both Ryu and Scherzer have had stints on the injured list that have slowed their campaigns. Meanwhile, deGrom pitched another gem Monday: one earned run over seven innings, with three hits, a walk and 11 strikeouts. His ERA dropped to 2.70, which includes a nearly ridiculous 2.20 ERA since May 22, the best such mark in baseball. He has 231 strikeouts this year, too, which leapfrogged Stephen Strasburg for most in the National League. DeGrom (9-8) officially has pitched himself back into the conversation — something of a marvel considering he had a 4.85 ERA at the end of April.

“I said that in spring, that’s always a goal,” deGrom said of a second straight Cy Young. “You have goals as a team, and you set personal goals as well. I go up there and try to put up zeroes and give these guys a chance to win.”

Asked to compare the deGrom of 2018 to that of 2019, Callaway wouldn’t quite bite. Last year, Callaway said, was “just unbelievable.” But the makeup is the same, which means a player who remains resolute despite less than favorable odds. That includes rough starts and stagnant run support.

“You’ve gotta give Jake a lot of credit and he didn’t let (the tough opening month) rattle him, that start, and he could have,” Callaway said. “But this guy doesn’t let anything rattle him. Still, at times, it’s hard to score runs for him and he doesn’t let it bother his performance. He knows he can control one thing and that’s Jacob deGrom and he knows he’s really good and it doesn’t take anybody else. He knows deep down inside who he is and he’s going to go out and show it every day.”

And the competitiveness never does quite waver for deGrom, who  allowed only one run Monday – a homer to his old buddy, Wilmer Flores. He grumbled that if he was going to give a homer up to anyone, it might as well have been Flo. “That’s a little bit annoying,” he said (though it should be noted he was smiling at the time.) And while he makes no secret of wanting to repeat, it’s not quite the focus it was last year, when the Cy Young storyline was the only thing keeping a sad Mets season afloat. This team has a (very) outside chance at a wild card, and deGrom sure likes to win.

“I think having won one, it’s still the goal,” he said. “But the bigger picture is this team trying to go to playoffs and getting to the World Series.”

But let’s be honest: a little extra hardware to go with it would hurt, either.

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