The job description was simple for Jacob deGrom — extend his Mets career by extending the Mets season.
And he began as if chasing land speed records and perfection. He retired the first six Padres in order over the first two innings with fastballs that edged toward 102 mph and sliders near 94 mph. So for two innings, he was Jacob deGrom. Unhittable and generally unfathomable — a two-pitch cyborg.
The thing, though, is he is not currently Jacob deGrom. At least not in full. He could not hold the same stuff or dominance. But he had said late in the evening after a Game 1 Mets loss that he cherished these moments and all that comes with it. “That’s what we love doing, competing, and going out there in big situations,” he offered.
He put action to those words. DeGrom did not sustain mastery. But he never lost his fight. He never lost control of this game. When deGrom needed to find big outs, he did. After disappointment last weekend in Atlanta to lose hold of the NL East and Friday night to fall behind in this wild-card series, the Mets’ stars finally came out. DeGrom was part of the galaxy.
He held the Padres to two runs in six innings — dogged over dominant. DeGrom handed a lead to Edwin Diaz. In the seventh inning. And the closer authored five key outs Saturday and by the time he was removed the Mets had blown the game open en route to a 7-3 triumph.
This tied this series at one game apiece. The teams will play a decisive game Sunday night. If it all worked out perfectly for the Mets, both clubs would fly to Southern California in the wee hours Monday morning — the Padres in tears home to San Diego; the Mets still with a whiff of victorious champagne on them to Los Angeles to take on the MLB-best Dodgers in the Division Series.
But the Mets have work to do to complete the two-game winning streak necessary to launch into the next round. However, Job 1 was a one-game, season-saving winning streak Saturday night.
They produced this because Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso — empty at-bats last weekend in Atlanta and Friday night in Game 1 — both homered and both reached base three times. Brandon Nimmo had one terrific at-bat after another, slashing three opposite-field singles — one delivering a run in the fourth — plus a walk. Buck Showalter, who lost a decisive playoff game in 1995 by removing Mariano Rivera quickly as Yankee manager and another in 2016 as Orioles manager by never inserting Zack Britton, did not hesitate to get his best reliever (Diaz) into the game in the seventh inning.
And on the front end of the Mets’ first postseason win since World Series Game 3 in 2015, it was deGrom. He came out blistering, no sure thing when there was such concern about the blister on his right middle finger that abbreviated his previous start against the Braves. Beyond that, he had gone 0-4 with a 6.00 ERA in his last four regular-season starts, including allowing three solo homers in six innings to get the Mets off poorly in their pivotal series at Truist Park.
DeGrom had come off the injured list on Aug. 2. In the time since, the Mets were just 10-11 when deGrom and Max Scherzer started. The Mets had dreamed of getting to the biggest games and unleashing deGrom and Scherzer as the most formidable 1-2 starting punch in the game. But that malfunctioned in Atlanta and only worsened when Scherzer was strafed for four homers and seven runs in 4 ²/₃ innings as San Diego won the opener 7-1.
The Mets turned to deGrom, their 2022 season on life support. DeGrom announced himself with triple-digit authority. He threw 12 pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning, 10 were fastballs and seven of those were greater than 100 mph, including 101.6 mph to strike out Juan Soto and 100.9 for the first of three strikeouts against Manny Machado.
But Trent Grisham’s third-inning homer tied the score at 1-1 and a fifth-inning Jurickson Profar single tied it 2-2. Soto followed Profar with a single to put runners on the corners with one out. The tying run was 90 feet away. Degrom had essentially flip-flopped his pitching profile by this point. His fastball was no longer the early-game lethal weapon. This appears to be the endurance price for missing so much pitching time the last two years.
So, deGrom relied to a greater extent on his slider and preserved his fastball for particular spots. It helped him strike out Machado and Josh Bell to retain the 2-2 tie in the fifth and, after Alonso homered to give the Mets the lead in the bottom of the inning, deGrom went 1-2-3 in a nine-pitch sixth in which he threw just three fastballs — none reaching triple digits.
But his job was done at any speed. There is still no guarantee he will make another start this season. DeGrom said he is opting out after the 2022 campaign. He did, though, help guarantee the Mets another game — a decisive one Sunday — and a chance to get to the Dodgers. That would bring more starts for Scherzer and deGrom.
DeGrom might not be fully deGrom at present. But on Saturday night, he was fully up for a season-saving fight.