The symbolism at Citi Field on Sunday afternoon was a little too obvious.
Before the Mets’ 5-2 win over Atlanta, a tarp covered the infield, the sky having just burst open to pour buckets of biblical rain on the stadium. The start of the game was delayed by 20 minutes to wait out the weather, but once the precipitation stopped, rays of sunshine in the literal and figurative sense shone from the heavens.
Jacob deGrom’s first five pitches of the game sizzled out of his hand at 99, 100, 100, 100 and 101.6 miles per hour, which should be rounded up to 102 for the simple reason of it being awesome. He was perfect through the first 17 hitters he faced, faltering in the sixth inning when he walked nine-hitter Ehire Adrianza. Nobody even stirred in the Mets’ bullpen until that inning, as deGrom was as dialed in as anyone could have reasonably hoped.
“I feel good, that’s the main goal,” deGrom told reporters afterward.
Dansby Swanson followed Adrianza’s walk with Atlanta’s first hit, and it went 418 feet for an opposite field home run. That closed the book on deGrom, as manager Buck Showalter called for lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez as soon as Swanson circled the bases. In his first start at Citi Field in over a year, deGrom not only carried the perfect game into the sixth inning, he also struck out 12 Braves and was responsible for a mind-blowing 25 swings and misses while facing only 19 hitters and throwing 76 total pitches. After the game, manager Buck Showalter said that the plan for deGrom was either to throw 75 pitches or six innings, whichever came first, and there was no chance he’d let him chase perfection.
“I probably would have had to let it be,” deGrom said of the possibility of being taken out with a perfect game intact. “It takes you over a year to come back to playing Major League Baseball, you don’t want to do anything dumb right when you get back. I probably would have let them take me out.”
Nobody wearing an Atlanta jersey even touched the slider until the sixth inning, and when they did, both instances of contact were foul balls. In the first inning, he somehow threw a slider at an unconscionable 95.7 miles per hour to get Austin Riley swinging. That is not only faster than the average Carlos Carrasco fastball, it is also the fastest slider to ever be recorded for a strikeout in the Statcast era.
The impact of getting deGrom back to his pre-injury form — which, by all indications, is where he’s at right now — can not be overstated. This is a top-five team in baseball adding a top-one pitcher. A physical representation of lighter times amid gray skies on Sunday, deGrom pitched the 200th game of his MLB career.
He departed not only having the record for most strikeouts in a pitcher’s first 200 starts, he also caused jubilation with each two-step off the rubber, cock of his world-class arm, and defeated march back to the dugout by hitter after hitter.
Jacob deGrom is back, and as long as that remains true, the Mets are going to be caked in sunshine.
“It was kind of emotional walking out there,” deGrom said. “I hadn’t taken this mound in over a year. I had to take a second and kind of get myself together.”
He took notice of the massive ovation he got on his way out, even though he was fuming from the walk.
“It was nice but I was very frustrated,” he said with a smile. “In that moment, I was pretty heated.”
The Mets’ offense came mostly in the third inning, when they put four hits and four runs on the board against Atlanta’s rookie starter Spencer Strider. Holding a two-run lead, with deGrom fully in charge of the game, Mark Canha’s two-out double into the left center field gap felt like a very early dagger. The well-placed line drive allowed Pete Alonso to score from second and Daniel Vogelbach to motor all the way in from first base, which was as beautiful as the deGrom outing for a much different reason.
Give props to Joely Rodriguez. The day after a doubleheader, playing with a very taxed bullpen, Rodriguez was tasked with the very important job of getting the ball from deGrom to Edwin Diaz. In his 2.1 innings on the hill, Rodriguez allowed only one hit, struck out four, and queued up the Diaz trumpets.
“To be honest, yeah, the changeup today was the best I’ve thrown it all year,” Rodriguez said through team interpreter Alan Suriel.
“The job that Joely did, we had five guys that we weren’t going to use today,” Showalter revealed. “We knew that Joely was going to have to do something.”
That song has been the last sound opponents hear before their chances of winning meet a fiery death, and with an added insurance run in the fifth thanks to the Braves’ Collin McHugh throwing a wild pitch, Diaz was able to get comfy. He turned the three-run lead into a three-run win, striking out the side for his 26th save.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Mets are not going to be anyone’s idea of a favorable playoff matchup.
“It’s truly just an incredible and fun environment,” Alonso said of Citi Field. “It’s easy to have fun when we’re playing.”
Source: Berkshire mont