Over the span of 24 hours at Citi Field, the Mets unleashed the furious talent of five Cy Young Awards at the defending world champs.
Max Scherzer for the second game of Saturday night’s doubleheader followed by Jacob deGrom’s emotional return in the Sunday matinee.
It was a wipeout — worse than Atlanta could have imagined. Scherzer and deGrom struck out 23 in 12 2/3 innings, allowing only five hits, two earned runs and one walk. Both picked up the Ws as the Mets built their NL East lead to 6 1/2 games by the end of the weekend.
Consider that a taste of what the nastiest one-two punch in the majors is about to inflict on opponents these next two months, and probably deep into October.
Scherzer, as he does for every Mets starter, was perched at the dugout’s top rail, absorbing deGrom’s masterpiece, studying each pitch.
Knowing that, I asked Scherzer on Monday afternoon for his impressions of deGrom’s dominance. It took him a moment to find the words.
Scherzer is known as one of baseball’s best talkers, full of great insight and smart commentary on the game. But what he witnessed Sunday almost defied description.
“He’s . . . um . . . the way he can generate swings and misses is unbelievable,” Scherzer said.
And what about Atlanta failing to make any contact at all on those first 18 sliders?
“It’s because he’s throwing 100,” Scherzer said. “Everybody has to cheat and it makes the slider that much better . . . The way he can tunnel that pitch, you just see fastball and swing, because nobody likes to just take a heater. They’d rather go down swinging, so they’re ready to go down swinging.
“For me, I have to have such a diverse pitch mix — I have multiple pitches moving in every single direction. Where he’s just coming with so much power that he has the luxury where he only needs a couple extra pitches to get you off the fastball. And it’s so explosive, it’s just by you. I mean, it’s incredible.”
DeGrom threw seven of his first eight pitches at 100 mph or faster, maxed out at 101.6 and averaged 99.1 with his fastball. The slider he used to whiff Austin Riley in the first inning was 95.7 mph, the highest velocity for that pitch of the Statcast era, which dates to 2015.
After watching all of that sorcery — extreme even by deGrom’s elite standards — I asked Scherzer if this version of deGrom might even be an upgrade from the one he’s known as an opponent through the years. His reply should send chills through the rest of the league.
“He can be better — that’s the reality,” said Scherzer, acknowledging that, on the surface, the idea sounds crazy. “But in dead seriousness, no, he can be better. Because if he puts his mind to it, he will be. That’s the fun part of it. To have a teammate, you see him pitch, know that he can better, and then go out there and actually do it . . . I think that’s our job as rotation-mates, to always see that better version of everyone. We’re all pushing each other to make sure that happens.”
Listening to Scherzer discuss this process, the deep dive into pitching at the molecular level, dissecting every aspect of the art, and you can’t help but think the Mets got double the value of his record $43.3 million annual salary. Scherzer turned 38 last month, but he couldn’t stress enough the critical importance of learning and adjusting and just constantly evolving on the mound. To stay the same — even as a multiple Cy Young winner — is to invite stagnancy, regression and ultimately failure.
Scherzer didn’t want to limit the conversation to him and deGrom despite everyone’s efforts to list them as one of the top elite duos in history. It’s still only two starts in, but if they stay on the expected trajectory, could they become a Koufax-Drysdale, Maddux-Glavine or Schilling-Johnson?
“The way he can throw a baseball, man, it’s something else,” said Scherzer, who is 8-2 with a 1.98 ERA. “I’ve gotten to compete against him over the past few years — I’ve enjoyed it. That’s the best part of this. I’ve been on the other side, having to compete against him, and for me, pushing myself to be better to try and match him. Now it’s great I don’t have to do that.”
As for his takeaway from Sunday’s gem, Scherzer prefers to instead move forward. He says the rotation members always go through a debriefing session with each other after their starts — comparing notes, breaking things down — and what he’s focused on now is how successful he and deGrom can be in the future.
“Knowing how he ticks, knowing how he thinks, works, what he can do,” Scherzer said. “I’m onto, OK, what’s he do next time out? Obviously, he threw the living daylights out of the ball, and that’s great. But now we’re at, how are you going to recover? What’s the process going forward?”
The Mets, unlike the opposition, can’t wait to see them back on the mound again.