Over the years, the Mets have not been particularly adept at supporting Jacob deGrom, who won consecutive National League Cy Young Awards despite a total of 21 wins in those two seasons.
Perhaps they were saving it all for this month. Two nights after the Braves broke a modern National League record with 29 runs and the Brewers scored 19, the Mets added to baseball’s blowout trend with an 18-1 win over the Blue Jays on Friday in Buffalo, N.Y. The Mets broke out for 10 runs in the fourth inning, relying on a Dominic Smith grand slam as they took advantage of multiple Blue Jays miscues on defense.
In doing so, the team gave deGrom more support than in any previous game in his career. The Mets also backed deGrom with 14 runs in his last start, marking the second time they have supported a pitcher with 14-plus runs in consecutive starts. Sid Fernandez was the beneficiary of the first such occurrence, back in 1992.
“It’s been a long time coming,” outfielder Michael Conforto said. “For him to just go out there and be able to pitch his game and do his thing, it’s been great.”
But nothing was so impactful as what unfolded in the fourth. After the Mets loaded the bases with no outs against their ex-teammate Anthony Kay, J.D. Davis hit a grounder to shortstop, where Santiago Espinal fielded and threw home. Catcher Danny Jansen missed the catch, allowing a run to score.
Moments later, Smith crushed a 402-foot grand slam to right-center field and the Mets never looked back. They sent 14 men to the plate in the fifth.
“I wanted them to keep scoring runs -- score as many as they could,” deGrom said. “There wasn’t a time where I was like, ‘OK, this is enough.' I wanted them to go out there and put together good at-bats, and keep scoring runs.”
For deGrom, the offense was a unique occurrence. From 2018-19, the Mets averaged 3.81 runs per game in support of deGrom, which ranked last in MLB among pitchers with at least 300 innings. The lack of support did not affect deGrom in the eyes of Cy Young Award voters, who increasingly rely on advanced metrics when evaluating pitchers. But it did affect the hypercompetitive deGrom.
During one eight-start stretch in 2018, the Mets scored 11 runs for deGrom. Total. He posted a 1.13 ERA in those eight games, and the Mets lost seven of them. Overall, the Mets lost more of deGrom’s starts than they won the past two years, despite the fact that he was pitching at a Hall of Fame-caliber level.
That has changed in 2020 for deGrom, who has been backed by an average of more than eight runs per game. Unsurprisingly, the team has won six of the last seven games he’s started.
“I’ve heard talks about the guys caring about giving the support that Jake needs out there with the performance that he always gives to us,” manager Luis Rojas said. “It’s in their mind.”
If anything, all the run support on Friday presented a challenge for deGrom, who threw 15 pitches over a roughly 70-minute stretch in the third and fourth innings. deGrom did what he could to try to stay warm on a chilly night Upstate -- the temperature at first pitch was 61 degrees -- but some imperfections showed when he allowed a pair of baserunners in the fifth.
“You know it’s not 0-0, but the mindset’s still the same: go out there, make competitive pitches and try not to let any runs score,” deGrom said. “That’s just the way I take the mound. Even in a game like tonight, that was my mindset the entire time.”
Even though the Mets were leading by 13 runs at the time, the runners seemed significant given how close the NL Cy Young Award race is -- and how little time deGrom has to separate himself from the pack. He struck out nine Blue Jays to reclaim the NL lead with 79, and shaved his ERA to a league-best 1.67. But Chicago’s Yu Darvish and Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer have been nearly as dominant.
If deGrom can hold them off to win his third straight Cy, he’ll join Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to accomplish that feat.
Continued support from his teammates can only help.
“First and foremost, we got a win,” Conforto said. “And we got a win for Jake, too. We’re always feeling good when Jake’s on the mound no matter how many runs we put up, but it felt good to do that for him.”