deGrom dominates (14 K's) after difficult 1st

Mets fall on walk-off after the ace retires 18 straight to end outing

July 2nd, 2021

Call Jacob deGrom whatever you want: an early bird, a self-starter, or just a guy who’s downright punctual. As great as the Cy Young frontrunner has been overall this season, he’s ratcheted up his dominance to historic proportions in the first inning.

But after his opening frame went uncharacteristically awry at Truist Park on Thursday, deGrom initiated an epic bounce-back effort, striking out 14 -- including eight in a row at one point -- over seven innings. The Mets also bounced back to force a ninth-inning tie, thanks to Dom Smith's second homer of the night, but they fell short in the rubber match against the Braves, 4-3.

“When he got his poise back, he was who we know he is,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said of deGrom. “Fourteen strikeouts in seven innings. This guy is the best pitcher in the game, no doubt.”

Entering the night, opponents were 1-for-39 (.026, one walk) vs. deGrom in the first, which marked the lowest single-season opponent average on record (minimum 40 batters faced). He’d also sent down 37 in a row in the opening frame, but the Braves, evidently, were uninterested in adding to that total.

A leadoff triple gave way to an RBI single and a two-run homer, and suddenly deGrom had allowed three runs in the first. That’s more than he’d allowed in an inning since Sept. 16, 2020. Oh, and more earned runs than he’d allowed in any start this season.

When the inning ended, the Mets’ ace was still seething over the home run: a two-strike, off-the-plate heater sent to the opposite field by Austin Riley.

“How did he hit that?!” deGrom asked catcher James McCann, right before slamming his glove into the dugout bench.

Then deGrom turned to pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and said, “That’s all they get.”

The righty nearly ate those words, as he allowed a double and a single to his first two batters in the second inning. But that's where the fun ended for Atlanta, and deGrom began to dominate.

By reading the Braves’ swings, he saw a lineup of hitters that was hunting his fastball. So he adjusted his approach in the second, throwing only four fastballs among his 17 pitches, “which helped me out later in the game,” he said.

The early damage might’ve helped him too, in a way. He feeds off the frustration of imperfection. He’s the bear you ought not poke.

“You guys know how he is,” Rojas said. “He gets upset when he gives up a run. And it’s not because of this year, because of the numbers that he’s had for the season that are historic. It’s just the way he is. He’s always been like that.”

A laser-focused, poker-faced deGrom retired 18 consecutive batters from the second inning onward, with 12 strikeouts in that span. His 14 strikeouts on the night were one off his season high, and his 27 whiffs were the most since he had 29 back on April 23.

He now has four streaks of eight consecutive strikeouts in his career; Nolan Ryan has two, and nobody else has more than one.

The scariest part might be that deGrom had “no clue” he fanned eight in a row. He challenges each hitter individually, and he almost always wins.

“You know that's a tough ride, man,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. 

On deGrom’s side of things, the tough part was that he exited with a 3-1 deficit. The Mets pulled thanks to seventh- and ninth-inning solo shots from Smith, but a bases-loaded infield hit won the game for the Braves in the bottom half.

A messy, un-deGrom inning for Mets reliever Seth Lugo went like this: infield single (with a throwing error by Lugo), groundout, strikeout, intentional walk, walk and another infield single. The ball never touched the outfield grass, and New York dropped the series in head-scratching fashion.

“Little things that end up being big things, and that cost us the game there,” Rojas said. “But what can we do? Like I say every day, these things make us better. We’ve just gotta get on that plane, go to New York and be prepared for the Yankees tomorrow. That’s gotta be our goal right now.”