NEW YORK -- For Jacob deGrom, a return to normalcy has meant a return to brilliance.
Remember those panic alarms clanging across Queens in late April? Remember the concern when deGrom went 0-3 with a 9.69 ERA in three starts, landing on the injured list in the middle of that stretch? All of that has been silenced.
Since the calendar flipped to May, deGrom has simply looked like the defending National League Cy Young Award winner that he is. In holding the Marlins to one run over seven innings Saturday in a 4-1 victory at Citi Field, deGrom kept his May ERA level at 1.29.
“He’s back,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He looks like Jacob deGrom again.”
Fastballs up to 98 mph. Sliders buzzing into the mid 90s. Curveballs and changeups and, more than anything, strikes -- 78 of them in all on Saturday, including 21 swings and misses, deGrom’s highest total since his second start of the season on April 3.
After retiring the first seven batters he faced, deGrom allowed his only run on back-to-back doubles by Jon Berti and opposing pitcher Sandy Alcantara in the third inning. Following those at-bats, catcher Tomas Nido said, deGrom seemed intent on redoubling his efforts, retiring 14 of the final 18 batters he faced. He struck out eight and walked one, improving his whiff-to-walk ratio to 21-to-4 in 21 innings this month.
“He’s a Cy Young winner for a reason,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said. “Having that type of ace on the mound, every time he takes that mound every fifth day, it’s definitely a morale boost for sure.”
And yet as late as the sixth, the Mets found themselves stuck in a tie game, unable to support deGrom with more than one run over a 19-inning stretch. Sound familiar? Last year, in winning the Cy Young Award, deGrom mustered only a 10-9 record due to a lack of offensive support. Watching from his perch in the home dugout Saturday, Callaway thought he was seeing last year on repeat.
Then Alonso and Michael Conforto hit back-to-back homers, and deGrom, who had already doubled in the third inning, added an RBI single to log his 13th career multi-hit game -- the most by a pitcher since the start of 2014.
“It’s a plus,” deGrom said of his offensive contribution. “But my main focus is to go out there and put up zeroes, and give these guys a chance to win a baseball game.”
Given how good deGrom has been at that over the past few seasons, there was never significant worry within the Mets’ clubhouse regarding his three-start slump last month. Still, the Mets are in no position to wait out struggling players as they attempt to climb back to .500. After Friday’s game, they admitted to urgency -- particularly now, amidst a stretch of 16 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams.
So they were grateful for the offense and grateful for the win, which gives the Mets a chance to even their record with a series sweep Sunday. Conforto called this “a dangerous series, because it’s a team you can look past,” and a matchup that, “at the end of the year … is going to tell the story of who’s on top of the division.”
What Conforto meant is that for the Mets, Phillies, Braves and Nationals, beating the Marlins is paramount. Saturday, the Mets could ill afford to drop one of those games with their ace on the mound. deGrom was intent on ensuring it wouldn’t happen.
“He’s back,” Callaway said. “And it’s very comforting.”