If you haven’t already heard, Jacob deGrom is a beast. The Mets second year starter showed the entire nation why he is considered by many to be the Mets true staff ace with a performance for the ages against the Dodgers on Friday night.
Facing Clayton Kershaw, a veteran-laden Dodgers lineup, and a rabid Chavez Ravine in the first game of the National League Division Series, one would think it would be a lot to ask of a 27-year old man from DeLand, Florida. Not the case; instead deGrom inhaled the pressure of the moment and exhaled nothing but cool confidence with the swagger of an ace.
He didn’t look 27 on that hill in Los Angeles. He looked like a grizzled veteran who ha been here and done that. Then again, when you think about how the best became the best, more times than not it was on stages like this.
He struck out 13 batters, tying a new franchise high for strikeouts in a playoff game, set by Tom Seaver in the 1973 NLCS against the Reds. That was the same Cincinnati Reds team that had Joe Morgan, Peter Rose and Johnny Bench to name a few from the Big Red Machine days.
deGrom topped 96.6 mph on his fastball, according to ESPN, which was two miles per hour faster than he threw all season with his heater. In addition 73 of the 75 fastballs he threw were faster than 94 mph.
The 13 strikeout effort put deGrom in good company, joining Joe Coleman of the 1972 Detroit Tigers; Mike Boddicker of the 1986 Baltimore Orioles; Mike Scott of the 1986 Houston Astros, and Tim Lincecum as the only pitchers to strikeout 13 and pitch a shutout in their postseason debut.
The question is where does that performance rank among the best in Mets history?
Here are a few examples:
Al Leiter, 1999 Wild Card @ Cincinnati: In 1999, the Mets and Reds were both 96-66 and needed a 1-game playoff to determine which team would be the National League wild card in that year’s playoffs. Leiter pitched the game of his life, holding a good Reds team to just two hits over nine innings of work as the Mets pulled out a 5-0 win and advanced to the NLDS against Arizona.
Bobby J. Jones, 2000 NLDS Game 4 vs. SF Giants: In one of the most unlikely performances in franchise history, Bobby J. Jones blanked a San Francisco Giants lineup in the clinching game of the division series. Jones pitched to contact with 42 of his 73 strikes coming on contact. He was amazing, holding San Francisco to just a Jeff Kent double New York’s 4-0 win.
Mike Hampton, 2000 NLCS Game 5 vs. Cardinals: Another dominant effort by a Met in a clinching game, Mike Hampton bewildered the Cardinals over nine innings of work. With a pitch count of 120, Hampton surrendered only three hits while striking out eight Cardinals.
Tom Seaver, 1969 World Series Game 4 vs. Orioles: Tom Terrific had a lot of great moments in his Hall of Fame career, but this defining performance of the 1969 World Series stands out. Seaver held Baltimore to just one run on six hits over 10 innings! That’s right, 10 innings!! Seaver held a 1-0 lead until a Brooks Robinson sac fly in the ninth tied it. Seaver came back out to pitch a scoreless tenth inning before New York won it in walk-off fashion.
Tom Seaver, 1973 NLCS vs. Reds: As many have mentioned Tom Seaver struck out 13 batters in the first game of the 1973 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds. While it was a great effort, the Mets lost this game 2-1, when Cincy scored runs in the eighth and ninth innings off of Seaver.
John Matlack, 1973 NLCS vs. Reds: A lot of people forget John Matlack, but his effort in Game 2 of the NLCS turned the series around. The lefty, in his second full season in the League and his first postseason game, held the Reds to just two hits, while striking out nine. The Mets would win Game 2, 5-0.
Doc Gooden & David Cone, 1988 NLCS vs. Dodgers: The ’88 LCS is one Mets fans like to forget, but the Mets did get two All Time efforts in the series. First in Game 1, Doc Goodden twirled a 10-strikeout effort against the Dodgers over seven innings of work. While it was a great performance, it is hurt by the fact Doc got a no decision; Randy Myers got the win for the Mets with two shut out innings.
Days later, with the Mets facing elimination, a young David Cone baffled the Dodgers over nine innings, allowing only one run on five hits with six strikeouts. While the effort wasn’t as spectacular as some others, it was still an important performance as the Mets won 5-1, and kept their season alive for one more day.
Considering the circumstances in which deGrom pitched in, and the way he pitched it is easy to place it near the top, but I will digress and put his effort second behind Leiter’s effort in 1999. Leiter was trying to get the Mets to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. There was no tomorrow for the Mets, when Leiter pitched that night in Cincinnati, and I am sure if the Mets lost that day, the Mets deep playoff runs in 1999 and 2000 would not have never come to fruition. Therefore I give the edge to the Toms River, New Jersey star.