This time, the Mets were not about to let Jacob deGrom down following a flirtation with history.
Shortly after deGrom came within one of Tom Seaver’s 51-year-old record for consecutive strikeouts, the Mets rallied late to give their ace his first win of the season in a 4-3 victory over the Rockies to open a seven-inning doubleheader.
“You don’t see that often,” manager Luis Rojas said. “I mean, we didn’t have a ball put in play for like three innings. The guys were just out there getting to their positions with no balls in play, like just running in and out of their dugout for three innings.”
Most of Saturday’s first game at Coors Field appeared to be the same old story for deGrom, who again matched his career high with 14 strikeouts -- including nine in a row from the second through the fourth innings. But when Josh Fuentes ended that streak with a ground ball to second base, the Mets’ defense quickly ceded the lead on an error and two other questionable plays. The Rockies’ resulting three-run rally (all of which were unearned) put deGrom on the hook for a loss -- until Francisco Lindor hit a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh.
The winning rally began with a James McCann single and a Jonathan Villar pinch-hit RBI double, which plated pinch-runner Albert Almora Jr. Brandon Nimmo followed with a single, before Lindor punched a Daniel Bard pitch through the right side to put New York ahead.
“It’s not easy for those guys when you have a game, and then games keep getting canceled or postponed and that messes with their timing,” deGrom said. “Hopefully, we’ll get this thing rolling and let them do what they’re capable of. We saw that late in this game.”
Earlier, the afternoon was all about deGrom, whose nine consecutive strikeouts fell one shy of Seaver’s record set on April 22, 1970. deGrom became the ninth pitcher in Major League history to strike out nine in a row, though in typical deGrom fashion, he called the stretch “business as usual.” deGrom said he didn’t know how many consecutive strikeouts he had amassed; he was more angry at himself for not being able to grab Fuentes’ grounder that ended the streak.
After the game, when told that he fell one shy of Seaver’s record, deGrom offered a wry smile.
“Well, that would have been nice to reach,” deGrom said. “But I fell a little short.”
Rojas called it “the Jake that we know,” which would probably be hyperbole for any other pitcher. deGrom became the third player to strike out 14-plus batters at Coors Field, joining Hall of Famer Randy Johnson as the only visiting pitchers to do it. He also combined with closer Edwin Díaz, who struck out the side in the seventh, for 17 total punchouts for New York. The Mets recorded 81 percent of their outs on strikeouts, breaking the 2016 Red Sox’s record for the highest percentage since 1900.
So while it was indeed “the Jake that we know,” it was also a version of him that keeps on improving. Early in the game, due in part to a disjointed between-starts schedule that included two postponed games due to rain and snow, deGrom found himself a little off-kilter with his mechanics. Topping out at 97 mph early, deGrom -- one of the best in baseball at self-diagnosing issues on the mound -- made a quick mechanical adjustment and was back throwing 101 mph by the third.
By that point, deGrom was well into his run of nine strikeouts in a row, and a flirtation with history.
“We talk about Jake getting better every year,” Rojas said. “We talked about the challenges of the weather today. Yeah, it’s a little bit of a different start, and then, all of the sudden, he makes an adjustment and does something special. That’s what we call it: something special happening.”