A key adjustment – along with guts and guile – saved Jacob deGrom
For Jacob deGrom, it was another display of guts and determination on Tuesday night in Chicago.
As was the case in Los Angeles five days earlier, deGrom could not get on-track in the first inning against the Cubs. Handed an early 1-0 lead, deGrom immediately coughed it up when he allowed a solo home run to Kyle Schwarber.
“I don’t know why the first inning has been so tough for me,” deGrom said after the game. “The last thing I want to do, when our guys go out there and put up a run is to give it right back up, and I’ve done that the past few times.”
As was the case in Los Angeles, he had no command of his fastball early on. It was erratic, sitting up in the strike zone when he did throw it for a strike, flying way out of the strike zone when it wasn’t, especially in the first inning.
And when he did throw his fastball for a strike, the Cubs were putting good swings on the ball.
That’s when he switched gears.
“I talked to [Travis d’Arnaud] and I noticed they were hitting the fastball pretty well,” the right-hander explained after the game. “So I said, ‘hey, lets try to throw some off-speed stuff up there early on and see if we can get early contact, and that ended up working for me.”
His signature pitch on Tuesday night was indeed his change-up, and it saved him until he could find his fastball, which came in the middle innings. He hung his hat on his change-up and curveball, throwing them a combined 49 times of the 100 pitches he threw.
It worked. He had the Cubs totally fooled, as they were looking for his fastball early in counts. Instead, they got off-speed.
Just like when Rocky Balboa was fighting right-handed against Apollo Creed, he switched to the left-hand and won the battle.
“In the third inning, I said if we get five out of this guy tonight, we’ll be lucky,” manager Terry Collins said. “Then all of a sudden in the fifth inning, fourth and fifth inning, he started making pitches. So it was a very similar outing he had in Los Angeles. He didn’t have very good stuff early. His command has been off. I don’t know if it’s fatigue this time of year. Again, he’s pitched more than he ever has in his whole life, so that could be the answer.”
It was yet another impressive display of grit and guile from deGrom, a power pitcher with the smarts and determination to make pitch-to-pitch adjustments, and show no fear with any pitch in his arsenal. It allowed him to hang in there just long enough to find his fastball command in the fifth inning.
He was back to fighting right-handed. At that point, it was simply a matter of time before the Mets could find just enough offense and pull away with their game three victory.
And a pleasant good evening for the Cubs, as deGrom was electrifying in innings 5-7 of what became another heroic effort on the part of the Mets ace.
“His commands tightened up a bit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about deGrom. “I thought early on underneath the ball a lot of pitches were high. I don’t think he knew where the ball was going through it, and all of a sudden he found out where it was going, and that’s what happened. I saw from him better command of his fastball down in the zone. There’s like really good late carry on the fastball from the side, I thought. He’s just got a better game in progress to his credit.”
It was enough for deGrom to earn his third postseason win. If this series goes seven games, Collins said it was possible deGrom could be brought back, which is why he was pulled after seven innings and 100 pitches.
But by then, he had done more than enough anyway, and the offense and bullpen took care of deGrom’s third win in the playoffs. He is the first pitcher in Mets history and the 20th pitcher in baseball history to win the first three starts in his postseason career.
Three times is a charm for deGrom, as this one put the Mets just one win away from the pennant.