The guts of an ace trumped the stuff of an ace on Thursday night
It had disaster written all over it. It looked like it was going to be the worst night for a bad night from the starter.
Jacob deGrom allowed four consecutive hits to the Dodgers in the first inning resulting in two runs with only one man retired. His fastball was dead. He couldn’t command it, either.
He couldn’t turn to his change-up, either.
His slider? Nowhere close.
DeGrom’s will, guile and guts? Never better.
“I almost took him out four times,” manager Terry Collins said.
Almost doesn’t count, however. And on Thursday night, deGrom proved to everyone in the world he belonged in that ballgame, obviously lacking anything close to his best stuff.
But that’s what made him so brilliant.
He had ten percent of the stuff of what he was in game one when he struck out 13 Dodger hitters in seven utterly ferocious innings.
But if there’s a will there is a way, and deGrom willed himself through six innings, navigating traffic and poor pitch location. dodging 11 run scoring opportunities from the Dodgers, which was just long enough to find his stuff in the fourth inning and keep the Mets in the game.
And Terry Collins took notice of deGrom’s resurgence too, which came thanks to a mechanical adjustment.
“[Dan Warthen] told me I was leaning and rushing to the plate,” deGrom explained afterwards.
“He used his changeup a lot better, better located, better located his fastball better,” the manager said late Thursday. “I thought in the middle of the game he started to pitch inside a little bit better, which speeds the bats up, so the off speed stuff is a little more effective.”
Like all aces seem to do in big spots, deGrom showed why his presence alone might have been better than anyone else Collins could have turned to in the early part of this game. He was able to concentrate, live in the moment, and get the big outs, specifically in the third and fourth inning when he got two consecutive strikeouts to strand runners and shutdown potential season-ending threats for both himself and the Mets.
But despite the guts, it seemed like Collins could only go to the well so many times with deGrom, who nearly fell through thin ice on so many occasions on Thursday.
Again, if there’s a will, there’s a way. And that will navigated deGrom through five innings, at which point Collins had to make a decision.
“Going into the sixth he’s at a hundred pitches and [pitching coach Dan Warthen] said I think he’s throwing the ball better than he has the entire night,” Collins explained.
Once again, Collins banked on his own gut feeling, and rolled the dice on deGrom.
And he hit.
“He went out and had an easy sixth, fortunately for us,” Collins said about leaving deGrom in for a sixth inning.
It was a test of patience for Collins, who had the pressure of an entire season weighing on the decision to stick with deGrom or run to his bullpen into unchartered territory with Noah Syndergaard.
That he decided to go back to the well with deGrom showed he had more faith in deGrom’s heart than he did in anyone else’s right arm.
And it’s that heart, guts and determination – the intangibles – that won for deGrom n Thursday. Not a 96 mph fastball, not his command, not anything which should otherwise trump the emotion scientifically, especially in a do-or-die playoff game.
“It seems like when there’s a big game and Jake’s out there. …[I’m questioned if] is he the guy for the job. ‘Why did you pick him?'” Collins explained. “If he didn’t show you tonight – he had command to nothing, and all he did was battle and battle and battle to give you six innings.
“It’s unbelievable,” Collins continued. “There were four times in the game he was one hit away from coming out of the game. Ended up giving us six innings, so I’m real proud of him.”
And for his guts and courage, the entire Met fan base is proud of him, too.