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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Jacob deGrom gave Mets hope, but not a win vs. Yankees

Jacob deGrom of the  Mets pitches against the Yankees

Jacob deGrom of the  Mets pitches against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on  Aug. 15, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets’ fractured rotation was scattered throughout Yankee Stadium before Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the Subway Series. Zack Wheeler (shoulder stress) threw on the leftfield grass during the early afternoon. Noah Syndergaard (lat muscle) finally made it through a bullpen session an hour later. The team informed us that Matt Harvey (scapula strain) would make another rehab start Wednesday for the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones.

And so it goes. The Mets remain a team in perpetual recovery mode, from physical harm to wounded pride, and that’s what made Jacob deGrom’s Tuesday start feel significant from their side, despite sailing on a ship that’s been sinking for a while now.

For lack of a better word, deGrom was the Mets’ champion in this home-and-home matchup with the Yankees, their last, best chance to save face, with nothing else left to play for. Asking deGrom to be perfect, however, in a ballpark as dangerous as Yankee Stadium, was a tall order — especially going up against Sonny Gray, the deadline-acquired No. 2 starter. When the cracks did surface, they were damaging enough in the Mets’ 5-4 loss, only the third for deGrom in his last dozen starts since June 12.

He went as far as he could, pushing into the eighth inning before Terry Collins removed deGrom at exactly 100 pitches. By then, the Yankees had tagged him for nine hits, including a pair of homers, and the five earned runs were the most deGrom has allowed since giving up eight to the Rangers on June 6.

Heading into Tuesday night, deGrom had been 9-2 with a 1.82 ERA in his previous 11 starts, with 85 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings, one of the dominant stretches in his four-year career. If there was a Met capable of containing the Yankees, in their cozy, hitter-friendly sanctuary, deGrom figured to be him. For the most part, he did, with the exception of a few pitches he’d surely like to have back.

Gary Sanchez’s soaring home run to open the sixth inning, that’s going to happen. DeGrom tried to sneak a 1-and-0 changeup past the powerful Sanchez, who blasted No. 21 deep into the leftfield bleachers. The more surprising mistake came to Jacoby Ellsbury, with two outs in the fourth. After a walk to Chase Headley, deGrom’s first pitch to Ellsbury was a 96-mph fastball to the lower inside corner, a dangerous spot against a lefthanded hitter, even one batting .239.

Ellsbury turned on the pitch, sending a low line drive to right that narrowly cleared the wall and landed two rows deep. Curtis Granderson, plenty familiar with that patch of Bronx real estate, barely spun around. He knew where it was headed. Ellsbury’s home run was only his second of a 47-game stretch dating to May 8, a span of 168 plate appearances.

A tough break, to be sure. But that’s the difference between these two teams here in mid-August. While the Yankees are chasing a division title, and trying to fend off a hungry six-pack of teams for a wild-card berth, the Mets will be spending the next six weeks in oblivion. These four games represented a last stab at glory, and deGrom was the rotation’s lone flag-bearer. DeGrom was pitching on the same day that Wednesday’s scheduled starter, Seth Lugo, surprisingly was put on the disabled list with what the Mets described as a shoulder impingement.

Besides the long ball, the Yankees first nicked deGrom using considerably less firepower in the third inning. A leadoff double by mighty-mite Ronald Torreyes — who wiped out rounding first base — stunned deGrom before a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner moved him to third. That brought up an interesting scenario with Aaron Hicks up next. The Mets could have opted to put Hicks on, and take their chances with Aaron Judge, whom deGrom whiffed earlier on three pitches, the last a shoulder-high 98-mph heater.

They chose Option B instead, and got burned when Hicks punched a full-count pitch into rightfield for the RBI single. Judge then bounced into a double play to end the inning.

Just another night of close for the Mets, but still out of reach.

New York Sports