JUPITER, Fla. -- This was the beginning of the dream combination for the Mets and their fans, Max Scherzer pitching one day and Jacob deGrom going the next night in Port St. Lucie, Fla. It started in Jupiter on Monday afternoon, Mets fans all over the ballpark to watch Scherzer against the Marlins, the fans getting louder and more excited every time Scherzer would come back out of the dugout to pitch another inning on his way to pitching five innings in the first start of his first spring with the Mets.
“That was really fun, watching him pitch for us,” Dominic Smith would say to manager Buck Showalter after the game was over.
“How do you think I felt?” Showalter said.
In the middle of March, Scherzer pitched like it was a middle-of-the-season game against a divisional rival. Basically Scherzer was Scherzer, giving you the full show, ready to pitch as soon as the ball came back from Tomás Nido, his catcher. Acting annoyed that Jazz Chisholm Jr. laid a perfect bunt down leading off the bottom of the first inning. Acting even more annoyed when Jacob Stallings kept stepping out on him and asking for time when Scherzer was ready to pitch.
Max Scherzer, going five innings right out of the box, one day before deGrom would make an even more anticipated spring debut at the Mets' home park up I-95, didn’t show the Marlins his best stuff on this day, because there was no need. But his stuff was still terrific as he kept pounding the zone, striking out five, giving up just two hits after Chisholm’s bunt, issuing no walks on 72 pitches, 55 of which were strikes.
You know who was ready to pitch after the 99 days of the lockout, and all those negotiating sessions in which he was a participant as a for the MLBPA as a member of its executive subcommittee? A future first ballot Hall of Famer, now a New York Met, named Max Scherzer clearly was. He is 37, but did not act his age at all in Jupiter on Monday afternoon. He mostly acted like a kid trying to make Showalter’s ballclub.
When he was asked afterward if he had enjoyed himself, Scherzer said, “Oh, God. I think you can answer that one for yourself.”
Then on Tuesday night up in Port St. Lucie, deGrom got the ball for the first time since last July. He did not pitch five innings against the Astros. He pitched two inning, as expected. But he struck out five batters and gave up just one hit and, oh by the way, he topped out at 99 mph. The Mets won Tuesday night, after losing Monday afternoon. No matter. You can’t have a better Spring Training day and night than the Mets got out of their two aces to start this week. Scherzer was Scherzer and deGrom looked like deGrom, and Mets fans could only look ahead and see a summer -- and perhaps an October -- full of possibilities.
“We were laughing,” deGrom said on Tuesday, recounting a pregame conversation with Scherzer. “He said, ‘How about you flip in a first-pitch curveball?’ I did it, and looked over at him and laughed. It’s fun. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve been around him and already learning from him, picking his brain. He’s been in this game a long time and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, so anytime you can be around guys like that, it’s awesome.”
Scherzer has won three Cy Young Awards. deGrom, coming back from his injury-shortened 2021, has won two. If the two of them are blessed with good health in 2022, there will be no more formidable 1-2 punch in the sport. Once the Mets had Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman at the top of their rotation. But they have never had two No. 1’s like Max and Jake at the same time.
There was a young man named Nick Hintz, visiting with his dad from Albertson, N.Y., in Nassau County on Long Island, to watch Scherzer’s start on Monday. They come down to Florida for Mets games every year, they had bought their tickets to Mets games on the east coast of Florida, then watched the lockout drag on and they finally saw the new version of the Spring Training schedule. They bought tickets all over again. And just simply fell into Scherzer’s first Mets start in Jupiter against the Marlins.
There they were in Section 109, third row behind the Mets' dugout on the first-base side of Roger Dean Stadium, up on their feet every time Scherzer would start another inning and every time he would finish one until he was done after the bottom of the fifth and coming off the field and shaking Showalter’s hand.
“We were praying that things would work out for us,” Nick Mintz, who turns 28 next week, said. “But we never could have dreamed that we’d see Max’s first start.”
Nick was, by the way, wearing a blue, campaign-ticket t-shirt that read this way:
Seven innings between them to start the spring now, 10 strikeouts, one earned run. Scherzer already got his new contract. deGrom is pitching for one. You can see they are pushing each other already, up there at the top of Buck Showalter’s rotation, both of them coming out firing this way. Top-of-the ticket guys for the New York Mets.