Jacob deGrom's gem bring Mets big hope for stretch run
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The first fastball rushed past Victor Robles at 7:26 p.m., speeding in a blur at 99 miles per hour, popping into Tomas Nido’s glove and serving as most agreeable announcement for the Mets: Jacob deGrom was back, and he was still throwing baseballs in a manner that precious few before him ever have.

In his first inning of his 2022 season, deGrom threw 15 pitches, and seven of them were at least 100 mph; his third pitch to Robles hit 102. He threw 38 fastballs on the night; none were slower than 98 mph. His sliders had filthy bite to them. Even when he got in a bit of trouble — in the fourth, when he allowed his only run — he minimized the damage, which is his true calling card.

“I was able to make pitches when I needed to,” deGrom said. “That was encouraging.”

This wasn’t the full-blown, end-to-end party that the Mets fans who made the pilgrimage to Nationals Park expected. Apparently the mere sight of deGrom on the mound is still enough to turn Mets bats to sawdust.

And while the Nationals’ lineup looked like a pathetic jumble of journeymen and minor leaguers, they sure had no problem filleting Stephen Nogosek and Yoan Lopez, the relievers who succeeded deGrom, strafing them for three home runs in a five-batter stretch in the sixth and seventh innings. The final was 5-1. Any loss to the Nats — now 36-69 — feels like a loss and a half. Fair enough.

Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom
AP

But even Mets fans and their lifetime supply of half-empty glasses had to feel good at what they saw across the five innings and 59 pitches deGrom threw Tuesday. One run in five innings has been good enough for 150 years to win a lot of baseball games. Just not this baseball game. The record will officially call it a no-decision for deGrom and a loss for the Mets, one that shaved their lead over the Braves to 2 ½ games.

The feeling exiting the game was something else. For the first time in 391 days, deGrom was slinging for the Mets again. The Mets feel close to whole again. The 59-game home stretch starts now. Officially.

“A lot of good things,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said, “other than the way the game turned out.”

For the first time, Showalter enjoyed the rare privilege of being able to pencil in the names of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom on back-to-back lineup cards.

“We got to see one or two outings in the spring,” Showalter said. “Just the levels. He has a swimmer’s body, long arms, and he’s got the ability to torque the baseball with a lot of arm speed.”

DeGrom copped to feeling a little jumpy, understandable because, until you actually walk to the mound, it’s impossible to know exactly how you’re going to feel. When he popped his head out of the dugout in the bottom of the first, he received a warm welcome from the invading Mets fans, an old friend back from sabbatical.

Jacob deGrom is all smiles after his outing.
Jacob deGrom is all smiles after his outing.
AP

“I felt good,” deGrom said when his three-hit, one-run, six-strikeout and zero-walk effort was over. “I definitely had some nerves but it was also definitely exciting to be out there. I wish for a different outcome but happy to be pitching. There were definitely more nerves than normal.”

DeGrom expects to go through his normal between-starts routine and said there’s no reason to think there’ll be any hiccups. Right now, the plan is to pitch him Sunday against the Braves, which will allow him to dive into the pennant chase with both feet.

“I’ve been looking forward to being here all year,” deGrom said.

The Mets were given a couple of cold-water jolts Tuesday, not only because they lost to a last-place team but also because they received a reminder — as if they needed it — that while elite starting pitching gives you a clear advantage, especially in a short series, it doesn’t make anything automatic.

If deGrom’s lifetime record of 77-53 doesn’t stand as a testament to that, the unhappy recap Tuesday drove the point home.

That’s OK. Fifty-nine pitches. Fifty-nine games to go. There remains so much left for the Mets to do. If Jacob deGrom can be there for the whole stretch? That should be a hell of a ride.

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