deGrom positions Mets to win pennant
CHICAGO -- Another October night, another Mets pitcher the Cubs could not effectively hit.
And now, the New Yorkers are one victory away from the World Series.
The Cubs said everything would change when the National League Division Championship Series moved from cold, pitcher-friendly Citi Field to cozier, (surprisingly) warmer Wrigley Field.
After scoring three runs in two games in New York, the Cubs said everything would be better for them in the Friendly Confines. It all sounded plausible, but none of it actually occurred. The only thing that changed all that dramatically Tuesday night in Game 3 was the name of the winning New York pitcher. Instead of Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, it was Jacob deGrom.
The Mets prevailed Tuesday night, 5-2. Look at these scores: 4-2, 4-1, 5-2. A trend has emerged. It isn't all that subtle. Forget that 0-7 record the Mets had against the Cubs in the first half of the regular season. Now, in October, the Mets have the run prevention half of the game solidly in hand against the Cubs.
"The Mets have just pitched extraordinarily well in these three games," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "You have to give them credit. They just pitched well. There is no other way to slice it, cut it."
The Mets can win the NL pennant and advance to the World Series in Game 4 Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time on TBS). Hoping for a fourth-straight start too good to lose, the Mets will entrust the pitching task to Steven Matz. He is 24, left-handed, and of course, a hard thrower. Matz's stuff can be overpowering, although his experience is limited.
At this point, with the direction this series has taken, your first inclination would not be to doubt Matz's ability to make this series a sweep. Your first inclination would be to doubt the Cubs' ability to score enough runs to win. Three games, five runs, no victories for the Cubs so far.
deGrom's winning line was seven innings, two runs on four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts. On a particularly warm, late October night in northeastern Illinois -- the game time temperature was 72 degrees -- there was almost no wind early in the game, and then a significant wind began blowing in the second half of the game. There were no built-in advantages for the pitchers.
deGrom did not have his best command, or best stuff, early in the game. But mid-game, his performance began to approach its usual, lofty levels.
"He just got better as the game progressed," Maddon said.
"In the third inning, I said, 'If we get five out of this guy tonight, we'll be lucky,'" said Mets manager Terry Collins. "Then, all of a sudden in the fourth and fifth innings, he started making pitches. So it was a very similar outing he had in Los Angeles [in Game 5 of the NL Division Series]."
"Just like the closeout game in L.A., Jake probably didn't have his best stuff, his best command, his best fastball," said Mets third baseman David Wright. "But he found a way to win, and that is the biggest compliment you can give a starting pitcher, is when they don't have their best stuff, they figure out a way to give you seven innings of two-run ball."
The Cubs touched deGrom twice. In the first, Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs' primary power producer this postseason, hit a pitch that appeared to be well outside, out of the park the opposite way.
In the fourth, Jorge Soler hit a home run to center. This made for something of a called shot by Maddon, who said before the game that he was putting Soler in the lineup because he believed that he could hit a home run.
But even with a fulfilled-prophecy homer, both of the Cubs' home runs were solo shots. After the first inning, Chicago did not manage anything resembling a serious threat against deGrom.
And after all, as good as Harvey and Syndergaard had been against the Cubs, deGrom is widely regarded as the real ace of the staff. He had just come from a Division Series in which he had beaten two Dodgers Cy Young Award winners: Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
deGrom has become the first pitcher in Mets history, and the 20th pitcher in Major League history, to win each of his first three postseason starts.
deGrom was asked if he had any advice for Matz for pitching in what could be the clinching game of the series.
"I haven't said anything to him yet," deGrom said, "but if I said anything, I would say go out there, and stick with his game plan, don't try to do too much, keep it simple and just try to keep the ball down in the zone and get early outs."
This is what wins in the postseason. OK, the Cubs have great hitting. The Mets have great pitching. You know what happens when these two meet. Great pitching is supposed to win. And it did, the last three nights, putting the Mets on the doorstep of the 2015 World Series.