PHILADELPHIA -- Jacob deGrom stole glances at the clock, knowing if a half-hour melted into three-quarters of one, pitching coach Dave Eiland wouldn't let him continue. Outside, tens of thousands of fans were ducking for cover, as lightning and rain mingled in the Philadelphia sky. Sequestered in the visiting clubhouse,
PHILADELPHIA -- Jacob deGrom stole glances at the clock, knowing if a half-hour melted into three-quarters of one, pitching coach Dave Eiland wouldn't let him continue. Outside, tens of thousands of fans were ducking for cover, as lightning and rain mingled in the Philadelphia sky. Sequestered in the visiting clubhouse, deGrom applied a heat pack to his arm, then kept it loose with a light game of catch. Every 10 minutes, Eiland checked with deGrom to make sure he still had "the look in his eyes I wanted to see."
That gaze did not soften when deGrom marched back to the Citizens Bank Park mound for the fourth inning Saturday, nor when he escaped trouble in the seventh. deGrom remained steely when Eiland asked him if he wanted to pitch the ninth and when he cranked out his three hardest fastballs of the night -- 98 mph, 99 mph, 99 mph -- to the final batter of a complete-game, 3-1 win over the Phillies.
"The really good ones? The great ones like that? They smell it," Eiland said. "They smell it and they go get it."
In a season that has frequently frustrated him in spite of its excellence, deGrom was committed to finishing what he started. It would not have been outlandish to think the baseball gods were conspiring against him when, as he prepared to emerge from the dugout for the bottom of the fourth inning, the skies darkened over Southeast Pennsylvania. Next came the rain and the tarp and the groans of those who made the trip down the Jersey Turnpike, aware that the rain could spoil what, thus far, had been a banner day for the Mets' ace.
Forty-one minutes later, deGrom emerged and, after allowing a hit to Rhys Hoskins, mowed down eight Phillies in succession en route to his first complete game since last June. The win improved deGrom's personal record to 8-7, pushing him over .500 for the first time in nearly a month.
"He's unflappable," catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "Nothing seems to bother him."
More pertinent in a Cy Young Award race that increasingly devalues the win statistic, deGrom lowered his National League-leading ERA to 1.71, racking up nine strikeouts and walking no one. A night after Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola delivered sublime outings in their bids to overtake deGrom as the NL's pace-setting pitcher, deGrom retained his ERA edge over both.
"I definitely wanted to go out there and throw the ball well," deGrom said. "But every time I take the mound, I want to put up zeros. What other guys do is out of my control."
Much of deGrom's support, both offensively and defensively, came courtesy of Jeff McNeil. Singling and scoring off Phillies starter Jacob Arrieta in the fourth inning, the Mets rookie also stole a base in the sixth, robbed Odubel Herrera of an infield hit in the fifth and tripled home a run in the seventh.
An inning later, deGrom returned to the dugout at 99 pitches, due up third in the top of the ninth. His pitching coach was there to greet him.
"I said, 'Do you want it?'" Eiland recalled of the conversation.
"Yeah, I'll finish it," deGrom replied.
"You sure you want it?" Eiland pressed. "You don't have to."
"I want to finish it," deGrom said.
If a leadoff single prompted Eiland and manager Mickey Callaway to regret their decision, they exhaled when the next pitch resulted in a double play. The rain, at this point, was a distant memory, as deGrom greeted the next batter, Nick Williams, with his hardest throw of the day. He checked the scoreboard and saw 98 mph. Again, deGrom reared back, this time looking over his shoulder to see 99. One last time, deGrom delivered, hitting 99 to induce a game-ending groundout.
"At that point," deGrom said, "let it fly. Here it is. See if you can hit it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Offensive insurance: Offering deGrom little support over the game's first six innings, the Mets broke out for two key insurance runs after Arrieta departed. With one out in the seventh, Mesoraco clubbed a home run to left, doubling the Mets' margin. Two batters later, Rosario singled, and McNeil followed with a triple off the base of the center-field fence.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Phillies mustered a pair of one-out hits off deGrom, who could not corral Amed Rosario's throw on an attempted double play. As the ball skipped past the pitcher and an unearned scored, McNeil began screaming at deGrom to retrieve it, realizing Herrera had wandered too far off first base. Eventually, deGrom did, and although Herrera was initially called safe, a manager challenge overturned the call, cutting short Philadelphia's rally.
Finishing the game with 204 strikeouts, deGrom eclipsed 200 for the third time in his career. The only other Mets pitchers to achieve that were Tom Seaver (nine times), Dwight Gooden (four times) and David Cone (four times).
deGrom's 1.71 ERA would be the second-lowest in franchise history over a full season, trailing only Gooden's 1.53 mark in 1985.
It would also be the sixth-lowest of any pitcher since Major League Baseball lowered the mound to its current height in 1969. Only seven qualified starters have finished with an ERA below 1.75 since that time. Five of them won the Cy Young Award that season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Working daily on his defense since coming to the Majors, McNeil demonstrated the fruits of his labors when he robbed Herrera of an infield hit in the fifth. Chasing down a ground ball up the middle, McNeil fielded it, spun and, as he lost his balance, used the last of his momentum to hit first baseman Wilmer Flores on the fly. McNeil's throw just beat Herrera, who chose to dive into first base.
"I've been working hard around the bag, being a little bit quicker," McNeil said. "It's definitely showing out there."
HE SAID IT
"It's the same stuff we've seen all year: his ability to go out there, get ahead, attack them with his best stuff. And when the game's on the line … he steps up and makes even better pitches." -- Callaway, on deGrom
A busy Sunday awaits the Mets, who will fly from Philadelphia to Williamsport, Pa., to meet a group of Little Leaguers in the afternoon. From there, the Mets will head across town to BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, where they will take on the Phillies in the second annual Little League Classic. Jason Vargas is scheduled to start opposite Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta in the 7:10 p.m. ET game.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.