The Dodgers have baseball’s best record, the NL West in their back pocket and the sport’s deepest talent pool.
But on nights like Wednesday, the Mets feature a weapon that even L.A. can’t match. They have Jacob deGrom.
There’s only one deGrom, who when healthy is the most lethal pitcher on the planet. And if the two-time Cy Young winner remains intact through October, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll beat Max Scherzer’s record $43.3-million salary when deGrom opts out of his current contract at season’s end.
As long as deGrom stays in the game, the Mets can look invincible.
And we’ve got some bad news for the rest of the league, as well as the Mets’ upcoming October opponents: deGrom is sticking around longer.
On Wednesday, deGrom blazed through seven innings -- the furthest of his six starts this season -- walked one and struck out nine to lead the Mets to a 2-1 victory. He allowed only three hits, the lone run coming on a slider he hung to Mookie Betts, who whacked it into the leftfield seats in the sixth.
DeGrom got some help, too. Brandon Nimmo made a spectacular leaping catch on a full sprint, stretching above the centerfield wall to rob Justin Turner of what would have been a tying home run in the seventh inning. Edwin Diaz followed a live performance of Timmy Trumpet by knocking out the teeth of the Dodgers’ vaunted lineup in the ninth.
This was as perfect a night as the Citi crowd of 41,799 could have asked for, an electrifying Mets’ performance from deGrom’s first pitch, a 101-mph fastball, to Diaz’s final slider (a Will Smith groundout). All of it made possible by deGrom taming a dangerous lineup that had been laying waste to the competition. He even held them hitless until Turner’s one-out single in the fifth past a diving Francisco Lindor.
“It was awesome,” deGrom said. “It was a great atmosphere. The fans were in it the whole time. That makes it a lot of fun. You know you’re playing important baseball and we all have the same goal here -- let’s continue to win and see where we can go.”
If deGrom remains intact, the Mets should be heading deep into October. The only Achilles heel to a deGrom start is relying on someone else to get the outs after he leaves -- other than Diaz anyway. Factor in deGrom’s lengthy medical history, along with this year’s four-month absence due to a stress reaction in his shoulder blade, and the health concerns follow him to the mound every turn.
It’s reason enough for the Mets to play it safe with deGrom to this point, cautiously nudging up the number for his innings and pitches. This is Showalter’s first year as his manager, and he’s chosen his postgame words carefully when describing deGrom’s exits. Showalter understands it’s a loaded subject, and he explained that Wednesday’s departure after 93 pitches -- two short of his season high two weeks earlier -- was his decision.
Still, deGrom seemed to have more in the tank, energized by Nimmo’s brilliant grab in the seventh. He froze Max Muncy looking at a 100-mph heater to open the inning, then left another triple-digit fastball up to Turner, who launched a deep drive that seemed destined for the visitors’ bullpen in right-center. When Nimmo came down with the baseball, pumping his fists as the crowd exploded, deGrom got a second wind.
“My goal is to strike out that last guy after the catch Nimmo made,” deGrom said.
That’s exactly what he did. Despite falling behind 2-and-0, deGrom rifled three straight sliders past a swinging Gavin Lux to end the inning -- and his night. With 55 strikeouts and a 0.55 WHIP, he’s the only pitcher in MLB history to do so through six starts to begin a season. It also was his 64th career start of at least seven innings and allowing one or zero runs, third-most since 2014, trailing only Max Scherzer (71) and Thursday’s starter for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw (68).
Nimmo’s catch was Wednesday’s viral-video highlight. And Diaz finally got his live Timmy Trumpet serenade. But make no mistake. The Mets evened this series, and the season head-to-head matchup (3-3), because of deGrom’s supernatural ability to silence an offense that leads the majors in just about every statistical category.
“Jake was the difference in that game,” Showalter said.
DeGrom is always the difference. And just in case the Dodgers had forgotten that -- he was in PSL rehabbing during the Mets’ June visit to Chavez Ravine -- the Mets were happy to unleash a reminder Wednesday night. Should these two teams meet again in October, and it seems they are on a collision course, deGrom is going to loom large on that stage.
“Tonight, it felt good,” deGrom said. “It felt like everything was where I wanted it.”
And deGrom was right where the Mets need him to be from now through the playoffs. On the mound.