deGrom dominant early, falters in 4-run fifth
KANSAS CITY -- Jacob deGrom's answers were as compact as the Kansas City swings that chased him from Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night. Ninety feet at a time, the patient, proficient Royals tormented deGrom with single after single during a 35-pitch fifth inning, producing the four-run rally they needed to beat the Mets, 7-1, at Kauffman Stadium. deGrom was in no mood to delve deep into an outing that represented a statistical outlier.
If deGrom is to make another appearance in the Series, he needs help. New York has dropped each of the first two games of the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Citi Field for Friday's Game 3 (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).
"They don't swing and miss, and they put the ball in play," said deGrom of the Royals. "They did a good job of that tonight."
Contact was key to Kansas City's relentless rally. deGrom, whose subtly erratic command of late had prompted Mets manager Terry Collins to open the Series with Matt Harvey, held the Royals hitless through the end of the third inning, then worked around an error and a hit in a harrowing fourth.
By that time, it was evident that deGrom was enduring an odd outing. Through those first four, albeit scoreless, innings, he produced only one swing and miss despite a fastball that reached its usual 98 mph and a full assortment of off-speed offerings.
That trend continued in the long fifth inning, which began with a walk and continued with five well-placed singles. By its end, deGrom had thrown 94 pitches in the game and produced only three swings and misses -- the fewest of any start in his career, according to MLB Network. That's a 3.2 percent swing-and-miss rate, far short of deGrom's 12.3 percent rate during the regular season.
It was a dramatic departure from deGrom's first three postseason starts, in which he induced 58 swings and misses and 27 strikeouts in 20 innings. In Game 2, he struck out only two batters and walked three -- only the second time in his career he walked more batters than he whiffed.
It marked the first time in deGrom's Major League career that he didn't get a single swing and miss on his fastball.
"I wasn't really surprised by it, because we kind of knew that going in," he said. "Early on, the pitch count was staying pretty low because I knew they were going to be attacking early. It was just that one inning."
The Royals had been searching for that opportunity.
"Off a guy like deGrom, you know anytime you've got him on the ropes, anytime you have opportunities with guys on base, you've got to make the most out of it," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "I just think, as a team, we all realize how important it is, and you just really see everybody bear down, put together good at-bats and fight off tough pitchers' pitches, and hope for him to leave it out over the plate so we can do some damage on it."
In the fifth, that's precisely what happened. Gordon opened the inning with a walk, and Alex Rios dumped the first of the Royals' singles into left field.
With one out, Alcides Escobar tied the game with a single -- off a slider in an 0-2 count -- after twice being unable to put down a bunt. With two outs and deGrom again ahead in the count, 0-1, Hosmer hit another slider for another single and two more runs, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead. Kendrys Morales kept the rally going by hitting an 0-1 changeup for a single that put runners at the corners for Mike Moustakas, who added insurance with yet another single in a full count that made it 4-1.
As the inning progressed, the Royals made better contact. According to Statcast™, the average exit velocity of balls put in play against deGrom from innings 1-4 was 82.84 mph. In the fifth inning, that figure jumped to 91.88 mph.
"He left a few balls over the middle of the plate," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "When you have a team like that that makes contact, they're going to barrel it up. Unfortunately, they found some holes, too."
Mets manager Terry Collins had left-hander Jon Niese warming in the bullpen, but never made a move.
"This guy has been our ace, you have to stay with him," Collins said. "We've been sitting here raving the last two series that he's gotten himself out of trouble and you're sitting there saying we go to Niese now, with Bartolo [Colon, who pitched parts of three innings in Game 1] down? I just thought it was time we could ride Jake and see if we could get him out of that inning and get him through one more and get better matchups."
Now the Mets face a daunting series deficit. deGrom was asked about their collective mindset entering Game 3.
"To win," he said. "That's the mentality going into every game. You have to win four. We're going home, we play well at home, and hopefully we win those three there."