There were two other right-handers for the Mets who were the kind of pitching stars that Jacob deGrom was for New York this season. There was Tom Seaver, the greatest figure in the history of the Mets' franchise. And there was young Dwight Gooden, who could throw fastballs past the world and turn every start into a must-see event -- fans were afraid to miss 20 strikeouts in a game or a no-hitter.
Of course, Seaver ended up with 311 wins, and he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 with 98.84 percent of the vote, which was the highest percentage until Ken Griffey Jr. beat it in 2016. And when Gooden was 20, he was as exciting a presence at old Shea Stadium -- and on a pitcher's mound anywhere -- as I've ever seen.
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This was Gooden before his drug problems and injuries and issues with the law. This was the Gooden who inspired The K Korner at Shea; he went 24-4 in 1985 with a 1.53 ERA, and he averaged nearly a strikeout an inning before baseball became the kind of strikeout world it is now.
There are still pitching seasons like this, and talents like this, who still make you simply say, "You had to be there." And I was.
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Here is what Gooden said on Wednesday night after he found out that deGrom had become the fourth Mets pitcher in history -- R.A. Dickey was the other -- to win the National League Cy Young Award.
"I love the way [deGrom] competes. You can tell by the expression on his face how much he hates to lose. His consistency over some pretty difficult circumstances was amazing. Welcome to the club, Jacob. Well deserved."
Here is what deGrom said after learning that he had made the club, with every first-place vote except one, after a season in which his record was 10-9:
"Wins, that is a thing that is kind of out of your control, which I kind of experienced firsthand this year. You go out there and you compete for your team, and as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and say you gave 100 percent and be happy with that outing, but you go out there and try to keep them in a position to win."
The Mets started out 11-1 and finished 77-85, falling 18 games under .500 over their final 150 games. So what deGrom did this season isn't as dramatic or startling as what Steve Carlton did with the Phillies in 1972, when he won 27 games and the Phils only won 59. But there were times this season when it felt that way, when New York wouldn't score any runs for deGrom and he still competed the way he did, game after game with brilliance and resolve, no matter what the scoreboard said. This was one of the great seasons any pitcher has had in the modern world. Someday, Mets fans will say that you simply had to be there to find out how good deGrom was.
On Sept. 11, deGrom finally set a record by allowing three runs or fewer in his 26th straight start. He led MLB in ERA this year. He struck out 269 batters in 217 innings, and he could be in the top tier of NL MVP Award voting. Gooden finished fourth in 1985. Carlton finished fifth in '72. There have been pitchers who actually won the MVP Award -- Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Justin Verlander, to name a few -- across baseball history. None of them ever looked or felt more valuable than deGrom did for the Mets in '18, when he was all they had.
The two most electrifying seasons I've seen from starting pitchers in my career are these: Gooden in 1985 and Pedro Martinez in '99, when he was 23-4 -- pitching in the American League East, at Fenway and in the thick of an era before drug testing in MLB -- and struck out 313 batters in his 213 1/3 innings. Pedro won the AL Cy Young Award and finished second in the AL MVP Award voting that year. He would have an even lower ERA the next season (1.74), but in '99, he was a right-handed Sandy Koufax. Gooden had looked the same way 14 years earlier. They were better than everybody else, the way deGrom was better than everybody else this past season.
Here is the way Mets manager Mickey Callaway described one of deGrom's starts in September, one deGrom lost. But really, he could have talked about almost any of them this way:
"You're always in this predicament where one unlucky or lucky instance can cost you the game. It does put more pressure on you to be perfect."
deGrom wasn't perfect. He just competed perfectly, without run support, without any chance of making it to October once his team staggered into the month of May. In truth, the club he officially joined Wednesday night, at age 30, wasn't just one with Mets Cy Young Award winners. It was the one with Seaver and Gooden in Queens, N.Y. Way back at the beginning, before the Mets won it all in 1969, the Mets were all Mets fans had. So, too, was deGrom.