'No excuse': Bats silent in latest deGrom gem

April 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Of all the Jacob deGrom statistics that continue to boggle the mind, the most notable are too often the negative ones -- undeserved losses and tough-luck no-decisions. Such numbers remain every bit as difficult to believe as the positive statistics, which paint deGrom as perhaps the greatest pitcher of his generation. He may not be the unluckiest in terms of sheer run support, but sequencing matters.

When deGrom pitches well, the Mets tend not to support him.

So it was Wednesday, when deGrom -- coming off statistically the most dominant start of his career -- had the audacity to crack for one run at Citi Field, which raised his National League-leading ERA to 0.51. It was enough for the Red Sox to win a 1-0 game over the Mets, who have scored one run their past 21 innings.

deGrom has now allowed two earned runs all season -- one on Wednesday, the other on April 10. He took the loss on each occasion.

Need more numbers? Since the start of the 2018 season, deGrom has produced a 1.99 ERA in 81 starts. The Mets are 38-43 in those games. It's the 33rd time in deGrom's career -- and third time in 2021 -- in which he allowed one run or fewer and he did not pick up the win, The Mets have lost 24 games during deGrom’s career in which he’s allowed one or zero runs, and they’ve lost three of his outings already this season, despite his ERA ranking lowest through five starts in franchise history.

“Really, there’s no excuse,” catcher James McCann said. “Especially in a game like tonight where between Jake and the rest of the staff, we held them to one run? We’ve got to find a way to win those games.”

Unlike in his previous start, which deGrom considered perhaps the most mechanically sound of his career, he felt out of whack from the beginning of this one. Unable to locate his fastball where he wanted against one of MLB’s best fastball-hitting teams, deGrom leaned heavily instead on his changeup and slider. The adjustment was enough for deGrom to get through six innings with nine strikeouts, matching Nolan Ryan for the most punchouts -- 59 in total -- over a pitcher’s first five starts of a season. But it came too late to keep Boston off the board entirely.

In the second inning, deGrom allowed a leadoff Xander Bogaerts double on a fastball that caught an uncharacteristically large chunk of the strike zone. Two batters later, he fired a 100-mph fastball well above the zone, but Christian Vázquez was able to lift it to deep right-center field for a double -- something deGrom believes wouldn’t have been possible had he been able to change Vazquez’s eye level by better locating other fastballs on the lower half.

“I think I’m just disappointed because of how good I felt mechanically out there last time,” deGrom said. “I just wasn’t able to repeat that.”

As is his custom, deGrom offered no criticism of an offense that again failed to support him, focusing instead on his own inability to be perfect. This is his reality. To be fair, it’s the reality for lots of Mets pitchers these days. But while the club has struggled offensively throughout the first month of the season, ranking last in both runs per game and batting average with runners in scoring position, those shortcomings have been most apparent with the planet’s greatest pitcher on the mound.

Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta said his mindset heading into the game was to tell himself: “I’m as good as deGrom.” If that seems ambitious for a pitcher who entered the night with a 5.31 career ERA, know that something supernatural happens to those with the misfortune of opposing the two-time Cy Young Award winner. Not counting their recent starts against deGrom, Pivetta, Erick Fedde, Chi Chi González, Trevor Rogers and Matt Moore have combined for a 4.85 ERA over more than 1,700 career innings.

Opposite deGrom this year? They own a 1.57 ERA.

“That’s just what you have to do,” Pivetta said. “He’s an incredible pitcher, don’t get me wrong. I love watching him pitch. I think he’s incredible. But I can’t let him being up here let me get down. I have to go up and meet him right there and believe in myself.”

If only success in this league were that easy. For weeks, the Mets have expressed confidence that their offense would round into form. Nineteen games into the season, it simply hasn’t, resulting in a sub-.500 team and one chronically unsupported ace.

“I try not to think too much about it,” deGrom said. “I’m more disappointed that I wasn’t able to make pitches there in the second inning. I was trying to battle through but just left some balls over the middle of the plate that got hit. That comes down to be controlling what I can control, and I didn’t do a good job of that.”