NEW YORK -- All afternoon, Jacob deGrom teetered on the edge, waiting for the anguish that would inevitably arrive, that had to arrive, that always arrives on the days that he pitches. In the first inning, a single through a defensive shift put deGrom in danger. In the second and third, the Mets stranded a trio of runners in scoring position. Even as they built their largest lead in two months, the Mets seemed vulnerable Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field.
With two outs in the sixth inning, Wilmer Flores committed an error on a foul pop that would have ended the inning, extending deGrom's afternoon that much longer. He responded in typical deGrom fashion: with a 95-mph fastball up in the zone and an 84-mph curveball in the dirt, striking out Scooter Gennett to cap his six shutout innings.
deGrom then watched from the dugout as the inevitable never occurred. Buoyed by deGrom's sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season, the Mets took an 8-0 contest from the Reds to give him his first victory since June 18.
"It's just been talked about so much," said outfielder Brandon Nimmo, whose 3-for-5 game with three doubles and three RBIs paced the Mets' attack. "I was never trying to do more on the days that Jake pitched and I don't think anybody else was. We were all trying just as hard as any other day."
Only Wednesday, the results came flooding forth for the Mets. Shaky early, deGrom allowed two hits in the first inning, a leadoff walk in the second and a single and stolen base to open the third. On each occasion, he rebounded to hold the Reds scoreless, retiring nine consecutive batters from the third through fifth innings.
By the time he walked off the field in the sixth, deGrom had lowered his career ERA in day games to 1.94 -- the best in modern baseball history -- while reducing his Major League-leading ERA to 1.77, which is more than half a run lower than Washington's Max Scherzer. His 10 strikeouts ran his season total to 183, or 33 shy of Scherzer, while his six innings pulled him within 9 1/3 of the Nationals' ace.
With less than a third of the regular season left to play, those two have emerged as the clear favorites for the National League Cy Young Award -- an honor that, despite his 6-7 record, deGrom has a real chance to win.
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"Honestly, I haven't looked," deGrom said of the developing race. "I just control what I can control. I haven't looked at what anybody else is doing."
A few more victories on deGrom's personal ledger wouldn't hurt, of course. The Mets finally backed him with an Austin Jackson RBI double in the second inning, plus two-run rallies in the fourth and the fifth -- including deGrom's bases-loaded walk off Robert Stephenson. Like Nimmo, Jackson finished the day 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
In total, the Mets scored more runs than in deGrom's previous four starts combined, and more than in all but two of his 23 outings.
"Almost every game he's pitched in, one pitch can cost him the game," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "Now, Jacob is so relaxed, he might not feel the stress of those, but … it's more impressive than some of the other things I've seen. The way he's kept runs from scoring, it's unbelievable."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Losing the strike zone: Rather than pitch to Devin Mesoraco with two men in scoring position and one out in the fourth, Stephenson intentionally walked him to load the bases for deGrom. Then something curious happened: Rather than challenge deGrom, Stephenson threw four consecutive breaking balls, walking him on four pitches. Amed Rosario followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 3-0 lead.
"I guess he had a better feel for that slider, I don't know," deGrom said. "I was trying to hit the ball. I couldn't do it."
Forced home on deGrom's bases-loaded walk, Bautista scored his 1,000th career run. He's one of 10 active players to achieve that feat, and he ranks 334th on the all-time list.
HE SAID IT
"It's pretty unbelievable. His stats speak for themselves, and we know every time we go out there … it's, 'Well, we're getting seven or eight strong today and we're going to get an opportunity to win this game.' I mean, this is Major League Baseball. These guys aren't just going out there and going to let you run all over them. So Jake is definitely doing something special this year, and obviously something we are all privileged to watch." -- Nimmo, on deGrom
Following an off-day Thursday, Zack Wheeler will open a three-game set Friday in Miami, beginning an unusual 10-day, 11-game, five-city road trip for the Mets. Wheeler, who has not allowed a run in 17 consecutive innings, will oppose right-hander Jose Urena in the 7:10 p.m. ET opener at Marlins Park.