Jacob deGrom’s martyrdom in the name of utterly, completely and permanently destroying the statistical value of the pitcher win should be engraved on his (hypothetical) Cooperstown plaque someday. Perhaps after a few more Cy Young Awards. Or dare we suggest a World Series ring.
Because amid all his brilliance, as deGrom displayed again Saturday night in mowing down the ever-dangerous Dodgers, there always is someone ready to spoil his efforts. Like the Mets, for example.
Despite shutting out L.A. for seven innings and shrinking his ERA to 2.61 — which jumps him over Max Scherzer to third in the NL — deGrom did all he could in preserving a 0-0 tie before Mickey Callaway removed him after 101 pitches.
The silver lining? The W ultimately went to Seth Lugo, who turned out to be the beneficiary of pinch hitter Rajai Davis’ three-run double in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 3-0 victory over the Dodgers.
“From here on out,” deGrom said, “my goal is to put ourselves in a position to win.”
Given the stakes, could Callaway have pushed deGrom a little further? The answer from both afterward was a resounding no. He needed 18 pitches to escape a hairy seventh, stranding two by whiffing Gavin Lux, whose Friday homer doomed Noah Syndergaard.
Even though his season-high pitch count is 116 — on July 31 — deGrom hasn’t surpassed 107 since that date. And we definitely get the vibe that the Mets don’t like pushing the envelope with their $138 million ace, especially on a night when Lugo was available.
“The gas tank was empty at that point,” Callaway said.
Added deGrom, “I was wearing down. I was starting to get tired and I noticed my arm was dragging a little bit. I gave an honest assessment there.”
That’s a big admission from the ultra-competitive deGrom and a respectful nod to the Dodgers’ lineup, which was stacked with lefties and forced him to go more changeup-heavy than usual.
As easy as deGrom can make it look — he retired 16 straight at one point — Saturday’s effort proved to be exhausting, thanks in part to going head-to-head with the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of his main rivals for the Cy Young Award.
Ryu trimmed his NL-best ERA to 2.35 with seven scoreless innings of his own and was just as dominant as deGrom, only using a different style. The two traded zeros with contrasting weapons — deGrom’s 98-mph fastball and 92-mph slider vs. Ryu’s 80-mph changeup and 72-mph curve.
It was as if both were stating their Cy Young cases before a boisterous crowd of 39,264 at Citi Field. And aside from loyalty to a specific uniform, how could anyone choose?
DeGrom entered Saturday with an NL-best 2.20 ERA since May 11, yet was merely 6-3 in those 20 starts. During that span, no NL pitcher had more strikeouts (164) and only the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (132 1⁄3) had thrown more innings than deGrom (131).
Since the beginning of last year, deGrom has thrown at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs an MLB-leading 33 times but has not earned a win in 20 of those starts. He also has 10 scoreless starts with a minimum of seven innings since 2018, the most in the majors during that span.
As far as this season goes, the Mets never needed it more than Saturday night after the Cubs again bulldozed the woeful Pirates.
“I feel like it’s a must-win every time,” said deGrom, who still has not beaten the Dodgers in 10 regular-season starts despite a 2.87 ERA against them.
Judging by Saturday’s performance, deGrom’s Cy momentum should carry him through a convincing September for BBWAA voters. It also could lead to a rematch with Ryu, this time on the ballots, if an October showdown isn’t in the cards.
“It’s hard for me to fathom that anybody’s better than him out there, so I’m going to be biased towards him,” Callaway said before Saturday’s game. “I recognize that, but I think there’s some strong points that we can all make that deGrom is leading this race.”
It’s just crazy that since the beginning of the 2018 season, deGrom has posted a 2.12 ERA and the Mets are 26-36 in his starts. That used to be shocking, but no longer. This is what we’ve come to expect on deGrom Day. A memorable, often spectacular outing — but often no tangible benefit in the standings.
This time the Mets prevailed anyway. A critical W for them, and the all-too-familiar ND for deGrom.