Fred Wilpon’s job description is principal owner of the Mets, but he’s a fan, too. And when the subject of Jacob deGrom was brought up a few hours before Wednesday night’s game at Citi Field, Wilpon beamed like a proud dad, the affection for deGrom etched on his face.
“He’s special,” said Wilpon, smiling. “He really is special.”
The casual chat was in the empty Mets’ dugout, shortly before batting practice, and Wilpon was enjoying a rare sun-splashed afternoon by Flushing Bay. The anticipation of another deGrom start made the day even better, because there are precious few like the Mets’ true No. 1, and he has never been more important to this team than right now.
Look around. On any other night for the Mets’ rotation, it’s often about survival, as Mickey Callaway watches with fingers crossed — and that can include Noah Syndergaard, whose skyrocketing pitch counts endanger his starts once he gets into the five-inning range.
Harvey Days are history. The Fab Five dream is dead. And the closest the Mets have to a sure thing on their roster is deGrom, who again showed why Wednesday by striking out eight over seven scoreless innings in what shockingly turned into a 2-1 loss to the Marlins.
The Mets dropped to 5-5 in deGrom’s starts this season. Plainly put, that can’t happen. And not after witnessing another brilliant performance by deGrom, who has allowed one run in his last 33 1⁄3 innings. During that six-start span, deGrom has struck out 47 and walked 10.
“It’s tough, because he’s been dominant,” Mickey Callaway said after Wednesday’s gut punch of a loss. “Not just good or solid, but dominant. He’s not giving up any runs.”
DeGrom further polished his early Cy Young candidacy by trimming his ERA to 1.54, behind only the Astros’ Justin Verlander (1.08). This season at Citi Field, deGrom is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA, and his 2.26 ERA overall in Flushing is the second-lowest career mark at home among active pitchers (300-plus innings). Clayton Kershaw is first with a 2.07 ERA.
All of this is a numbers-heavy way of saying that deGrom isn’t going anywhere, and for the crazies with wild imaginations that need it spelled out, especially the Bronx. The Mets’ recent flirtation with .500 last week cranked up the deGrom-to-Yankees fantasy for both sides of RFK Bridge, but that ain’t happening, no matter how this season unspools in Queens.
The Mets have enough insecurities without trading one of the best pitchers in franchise history to be used to fortify a Yankees’ World Series run. We understand the fantasy is contingent on a shiny package of prospects from the Yankees’ bottomless supply, but who exactly do the Mets’ faithful think they’re getting?
Gleyber Torres, the 20-year-old second baseman who homers every day? Or Miguel Andujar, who at 23 already has won the third base job with his precocious power? Nope on both counts. You could probably pry Clint Frazier away, along with some other lower-level prospects, but if you locked Sandy Alderson and Brian Cashman in a room for the next decade, they wouldn’t be able to hammer out a swap of this magnitude.
Just last year, the two GMs couldn’t agree on potential trades for Jay Bruce, Neil Walker or Lucas Duda. And by the end of those conversations, they wound up ticked off at each other. Now imagine them trying to complete a deal for a franchise pitcher like deGrom? No shot.
But we’re getting sidetracked here. The issue at hand is deGrom’s value to the Mets, and everyone is getting a refresher course as the team keeps trying to stabilize themselves at the annual Memorial Day mile-marker. When deGrom first suffered that hyperextended elbow back on May 2, and left mid-game, the initial reaction was that the Mets’ season was over.
Fortunately for them, it turned out to be a relatively mild condition, and deGrom was back swinging a bat again Wednesday — only with an elbow brace, just to be safe. The Mets have to go all-out to protect deGrom, their most valuable commodity, now and for the future. In the meantime, scoring a few runs for him would be nice, too.
“You know the guys are out there giving 100 percent,” deGrom said.
And yet, deGrom is pitching like he deserves so much better.