During an otherwise ordinary season, defined more by its insufficiencies than its victories, the New York Mets were validated every fifth day by one of most extraordinary pitching performances in the last century.
When it’s all said and done – and it will be done on Sunday – Jacob deGrom will be all that’s worth remembering about a year that began with 11 wins in the first 12 games.
On Wednesday at Citi Field, deGrom put the exclamation point on what should be a Cy Young season by holding the Atlanta Braves, the NL East champion, to two hits in eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
So dominating was deGrom that if his strike three wild pitch to Ronald Acuna, Jr., the last 20 Braves would have gone down in order. In the process, deGrom also racked up his 1,000th strikeout. He hit the milestone quicker than any pitcher in club history (872 ²/₃ innings).
He walks into the offseason with a Major League leading 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and only 46 walks over 217 innings.
The New York Times offered this statistical tidbit: Since 1908, only three pitchers produced an ERA under 2.00 with the garnish of at least 250 strikeouts and 50 walks or fewer. Christy Mathewson (New York Giants, 1908), Pedro Martinez (Boston Red Sox, 2000) and deGrom.
Think about that for a moment.
Since the mound was lowered after the powerless 1968 season, when Bob Gibson’s ERA was 1.12, only five other starters have had done better.
Roger Craig and Al Jackson combined for 44 losses for the expansion 1962 Mets. But since then, the franchise has had exceptional starters in Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
The thing is, those guys pitched for World Champions, in an environment where every pitch had consequences. Not deGrom. He pitched for a team that came into Thursday 74-84 and 15 games out of the first place and drew barely over 23,000 for last night’s game.
Only Gooden’s 1.54 ERA in 1985 checked in lower than deGrom’s.
There is so much to admire about deGrom’s season, much of which can be measured historically. After getting roughed up by the Miami Marlins on April 10, no batting order in his last 29 starts reached him for four runs. And that’s a major-league record for a single-season.
When he pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Jake Arrieta also had 29 over the course of the 2014-15 seasons.
Here’s one more way to quantify his season: There is something called a “quality start” which a pitcher gets credit for when he goes at least six innings and allows three earned runs or less. Wednesday was deGrom’s 24th straight, the most ever in a single-season and just two short of the MLB record.
Most instructive was that deGrom finished the season 10-9 because the Mets simply could not support him, either with their bats or bullpen, whose ERA was 6.85 in games he started but didn’t finish. The Mets lost 18 of his 32 starts despite his contributions.
“Looking back now, I guess it’s kind of crazy there wasn’t really a hiccup,” said deGrom on Wednesday. “In years past, I kind of got in my own head, overthinking things if it didn’t go as planned or trying to do too much instead of taking it one pitch at a time. That was my focus this year: One pitch at a time, here it is, let’s go right after guys.”
Mets manager Mickey Calloway, the former pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians, put deGrom’s season into perspective after Wednesday dropped the curtain.
“It’s going to be the best season ever, in my mind, with the caliber of play and how hard it is to pitch these days,” Callaway said.