For Jacob deGrom, Saturday night was seven years worth the wait — and potentially one heck of a final showing as a member of the New York Mets.
Of course, such hypotheticals won’t really come into focus until the Mets’ season ends whether that be on Sunday night in Game 3 of the National League Wild Card Series or beyond. But even the 34-year-old right-hander who is still considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball understood the potential gravity of the situation.
Game 2 could have very well been deGrom’s final start with the Mets as he enters free agency this winter where he will be one of the most coveted arms ever seen on the open market despite dealing with an onslaught of injuries over the last two seasons.
“I guess that went into my mind,” deGrom said of Saturday being his last time toeing the rubber in a Mets uniform. “But the hope was we’d win a baseball game and continue to keep playing.”
He lived up to his end of the bargain in as tenacious a way as we’ve seen from the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
While it was clear that his best stuff wasn’t there — which shows how the game of baseball has been spoiled by his accolades over the last five years — deGrom went six innings while allowing two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts, keeping the Mets in it long enough for their long-awaited four-run breakout in the seventh inning to spark a 7-3 victory.
“My changeup wasn’t great… So then it was kind of fastball, slider for most of the night,” deGrom said. “I only threw one curveball. It was only sticking with those two pitches once I figured out where my slider was going.”
He retired the first seven batters he faced before allowing a game-tying home run to Trent Grisham in the third inning on a 100-mph fastball that hit the outer corner of the plate.
“I have to tip my hat to Trent,” he said. “That homer, I thought that was a good pitch and he just got to it.”
It wasn’t his only trouble of the night. He got into a second-and-third jam later in the third when a Juan Soto single prompted Starling Marte to try and throw out Jurickson Profar, who was on first, at third. The throw soared considerably over the head of third baseman Eduardo Escobar and looked destined to go into the dugout to allow Profar to score the go-ahead run, but deGrom got there just in time to back up the play and barehand the ball before it left the playing field.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Mets manager Showalter said. “When you do something right fundamentally, you get rewarded. Not many pitchers are there and two, they don’t make that play. What an athletic play.”
He proceeded to strike out Manny Machado to get out of it.
While up 2-1 in the fifth, deGrom allowed a game-tying Profar single, ultimately leading to a two-on, one-out jam against the heart of the Padres order.
While it looked like deGrom was laboring — and it had been a theme of his previous starts to slow down in the mid-innings — he roared back to strike out Machado and Josh Bell with 90 pitches to his ledger.
Under normal circumstances, his night would have been over having missed four months of the season due to a stress reaction in his right scapula. But in the playoffs ask of more from the best — and deGrom bounded out of the dugout for the sixth and proceeded to set down the Padres on just nine pitches to end his night on a high note.
“They asked how I was doing/ I said I’m good to go. Let’s keep going,” deGrom said. “I felt like I had my best stuff in the sixth inning… The goal was to put us in a position to win and pass it along to Bassitt.”
That’s exactly what he did. Now it’ll be up to Bassitt and the Mets supporting cast to ensure that free-agency talk is staved off for a little while longer.
“Win or go home, I love pitching here,” deGrom said. “Mets fans have been great to me. I didn’t want to disappoint. I wanted to go out there and give us a chance.”
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