NEW YORK -- Chronicles of Aaron Loup tend to begin with the beer.
It’s always there after games, a 12-ounce Busch Light in a gold-and-silver can, which Loup dutifully carries to the podium for his press conferences. As far back as Spring Training, Loup referenced the beer, shrugging when asked his thoughts about being used as an opener: “Who wouldn’t want to be the guy to start the game and then get to sit in the clubhouse and drink a few brews?”
In that fashion, the omnipresent aluminum can has offered several light moments in an otherwise difficult season for the Mets. It has also, through its levity, perhaps masked the historic nature of Loup’s accomplishments. In recording four more outs to earn the win in the Mets’ 3-2 victory over the Phillies on Sunday, Loup lowered his ERA to 1.00 in 54 innings.
He has a chance to become the first Met in history to finish a season with at least 20 innings and a sub-1 ERA.
“It would be a great accomplishment,” Loup said. “I’ve had a great year. To finish under 1 would be the icing on the cake, I guess you could say.”
As he often does, Loup entered Sunday’s game with the score tied in the seventh. He walked Bryce Harper but retired J.T. Realmuto to escape a bases-loaded jam (mostly of Seth Lugo’s making), then Loup returned to contribute a scoreless eighth, building an effective bridge between starter Rich Hill and closer Edwin Díaz. Loup (6-0) earned the win thanks to Jeff McNeil, who hit a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the seventh, and Dominic Smith, who tied things with a two-run double in the fifth.
“He’s been our best reliever,” manager Luis Rojas said of Loup. “Outside of [Jacob deGrom], he’s been, I think, our best pitcher.”
That’s no stretch. In AL/NL history, only 11 pitchers have finished a season with more than 54 innings and a sub-1 ERA. Three of them were starters who worked in the dead-ball era or earlier, leaving only eight men to do it within the context of the modern game. The last was Blake Treinen, who produced a 0.78 ERA for the A’s over 80 1/3 innings in 2018. The list of luminaries also includes Dennis Eckersley, Jonathan Papelbon and Fernando Rodney, among others.
So rare is this sort of thing that in Mets history, only five pitchers have finished a season with even 10 innings and a sub-1 ERA. No Met has gone sub-1 over as many as 20 innings, and yet somehow Loup has a chance to do it despite throwing more than 50. Since snapping a career-best streak of 23 consecutive scoreless appearances from early July through late August, the left-hander has reeled off another 10 in a row without a run.
“It’s been definitely a lot more than we expected,” Rojas said. “We knew how good of a pitcher he was. We felt that he was going to have a good year, but this is a special year. He’s one of the best relievers in baseball.”
Nearly unprecedented in a general sense, Loup’s stat line is particularly noteworthy for a 33-year-old who tops out in the mid-90s and has never previously finished a full season with an ERA lower than 2.47. The Mets signed Loup to a $3 million contract last winter largely because they believed him to be a better left-handed bargain than Brad Hand, who went to the Nationals for more than three times as much money.
As Rojas noted, even they didn’t realize the extent of it.
The question now is whether Loup might reprise this role next season. Although it’s natural to expect some regression from Loup, whose 2.40 FIP suggests he’s been the recipient of at least some good fortune, even a significant step back could still result in a successful season. As such, Loup is likely to command more attention on the open market than he did a year ago.
But the Mets have at least one advantage as the stewards of his historic season. Loup is comfortable in New York, comfortable with the idea of a return.
“I’ve had a blast playing here,” Loup said. “I’ve had fun with the guys all year long. And I’ve had a great year, so I see no reason not to.”