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Reliving Jacob deGrom’s historic season

We take a look back at the many highs and few lows of deGrom’s phenomenal 2018.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Looking back on the 2018 season, the most exciting highlight by far was the pleasure of watching Jacob deGrom take the mound every fifth day, knowing that you would see something incredible. A new generation of Mets fans got to experience what it was like to watch Doc Gooden or Tom Seaver pitch. As we await word on what will surely end in a Cy Young award for Jacob deGrom, we can bottle up and savor the emotional journey that was his 2018 season.

deGrom opened his season on March 31st—the Mets’ second game of the year. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced and gave up just one run over 5 23 innings to earn his first victory of the season, as the Mets coasted to a 6-2 win.

From there, things seemed like they would go wonderfully for deGrom and the 2018 Mets. He got an easy victory in his second start of the season as well, spoiling the Nationals’ home opener, as the Mets won nine in a row in early April, riding high atop the NL East.

But he hit his first bump in the road on April 10th against the Miami Marlins. He gave up four runs on seven hits in just six innings against a less than powerful Marlins lineup. However, the early April version of the Mets couldn’t be stopped and they bailed deGrom out to win the game 8-6.

Little did we know that the Mets would go on to give deGrom just 3.53 runs of support per game, on average. Only Cole Hamels had less support in the major leagues in 2018. And soon, deGrom got his first small taste of things to come. In his next start against the Nationals, the bullpen imploded for a six-run eighth inning, as the Mets squandered his strong start.

However, deGrom never gave up more than three runs in a start again the rest of the season. He threw two gems in late April, tossing at least seven shoutout innings in each.

But then came deGrom’s lowest point of the season. On May 2nd, he seemed to be well on his way to another stellar start, when he came out of the game after just four innings.

The Mets lost the game 7-0, the Braves took first place in the NL East, and Mets fans everywhere feared the worst for their ace. Luckily, deGrom dodged a bullet. The hyperextended elbow he suffered swinging the bat caused him to miss just one start.

deGrom returned to action on May 13th and faced off against the Phillies. It did not go how he hoped, but deGrom once again showed that he is at his best when his back is against the wall. He loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning, unable to find his command. But then he struck out Rhys Hoskins and made a slick fielding play for the force out at home to save a run.

And on his 45th pitch of the inning, he struck out Maikel Franco to keep the Phillies off the board.

The Mets would go on to lose the game, in part due to some questionable bullpen usage on the part of Mickey Callaway, but despite going just one inning, deGrom still showed that he is one of the most unflappable players in the majors. Despite 20 foul balls in the inning, deGrom refused to be beat.

Any lingering concerns on the part of Mets fans after the abbreviated outing following the injury were erased over the rest of the month of May, as deGrom rattled off four brilliant starts in a row, in which he gave up one run or less. Predictably, he only got the win in one of them: May 18th against the Diamondbacks, in which he tied his career high with 13 strikeouts.

He gave up just one run in the Mets victory to bring him to 4-0 on the year.

His first loss of the season didn’t come until June 8th when the Yankees came to town. He entered the game with a 0.57 ERA in his previous eight starts. He was still brilliant, but not brilliant enough for the struggling Mets, who had dropped six straight heading into the night. It was the first time deGrom went eight innings in 2018 and he left the game on a high note, freezing one of the best hitters in the game for his eighth strikeout of the night.

He really made one mistake all night—a changeup to Brett Gardner that left the ballpark for a two-run homer. But he took the loss for one of his most brilliant outings of the season against one of the most powerful lineups in baseball.

But just when you thought deGrom couldn’t outdo himself, he did. After his outing against the Yankees on the national stage, the Cy Young chatter for deGrom began in earnest, despite the knowledge that he was never going to rack up the win totals of his chief competitors. With the Mets firmly in doldrums territory by the middle of June, deGrom’s brilliance became the one thing the Mets had to look forward to in a 5-21 month.

And when he faced his biggest challenge yet to his minuscule ERA, facing a formidable Rockies lineup in Coors Field, he did not disappoint.

deGrom surrendered just two runs, only one of them earned, and the Mets gave him an abundance of run support for a change in a 12-2 rout of the Rockies. deGrom improved to 5-2 on the year.

In his two final starts in June, however, deGrom took two losses, surrendering three runs over six innings in both of them. He would hover at or near a .500 record for the rest of the season.

The calendar turned to July and deGrom rebounded with another eight inning effort against the Rays, giving up just one run and four hits over eight innings and striking out eight and lowering his ERA to a league-best 1.78.

As usual, he got a no-decision for this effort, but Jose Bautista’s walk-off grand slam—his first walk-off home run of his career—lifted the Mets.

In his very next start on July 11th, deGrom shut the Phillies out for eight innings in an absolutely dominant outing.

But it was déjà vu for the Mets, as deGrom once again walked away with a no-decision. And once again, the game ended on a walk-off home run, this time off the bat of Brandon Nimmo.

At this point, deGrom’s ERA dipped down to 1.68 as we headed into the All-Star break. deGrom was unquestionably an All-Star and may have started the game for the National League if not for the fact that the game took place in Max Scherzer’s home ballpark. It would have been nearly impossible for deGrom to outdo his 2015 All-Star Game performance, in which he struck out the side on ten pitches, but he still represented himself quite well in the Midsummer Classic. He gave up a solo homer to Mike Trout, but then again, who hasn’t? But he did strike out J.D. Martinez to end the inning.

Not to mention that deGrom’s All-Star Game outing did produce this iconic image...

...which is the face I make whenever anyone cites pitcher wins like they are a relevant statistic.

Speaking of pitcher wins, late July and early August marked the peak of deGrom not getting rewarded for his brilliance. From July 23 to August 3, deGrom made three starts and took three losses in a row, despite adding three more quality starts to his streak and going at least seven innings in all three starts. He fell to 5-7 on the year.

But then things turned around for deGrom in the month of August. He got three wins in a row over his next three starts. On August 13th, he earned his redemption against the Yankees. He bested Luis Severino—at the time a 15-game winner—and struck out a dozen Yankees over 6 23 innings, giving up just three runs, only two of which were earned.

If Coors was the first big test in protecting his robust ERA lead, squaring off against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium was the second. deGrom passed with flying colors and the Mets unloaded for eight runs to get deGrom to 7-7 on the year.

deGrom then capped off his winning streak with his first—and only—complete game of the season on August 18th against the Phillies.

Oh, and his final three pitches of the game were 98, 99, and 99 mph. No big deal.

If there was any game of the 2018 season that was emblematic of Jacob deGrom’s year, it was his August 28th no-decision against the Cubs. deGrom pitched eight innings, struck out ten, gave up just one run, and as the game went to extra-innings, the skies opened and the Mets and Cubs had to wait until the next day to finish the game, at which point the Mets were walked off in eleven innings. Jacob deGrom drove in the only run the Mets scored.

As the calendar flipped to September, deGrom continued to open up a wider and wider gulf in ERA between himself and his Cy Young competition, making more and more voters into win-loss record skeptics. Ironically, the Marlins continued to be deGrom’s bugaboo, as his final loss of the season came on September 11th against Miami at Citi Field. He gave up just two runs and had to shake off some rust after having his start delayed twice due to the weather, but the Mets lost the game 5-3, leaving many to wonder if he would achieve the elusive milestone of double-digit wins. Nonetheless, it was a record-setting start for deGrom in a season where he seemed to set a new record every time he took the mound.

deGrom’s final big test in the 2018 season schedule was going toe-to-toe with Chris Sale and the potent Red Sox lineup at Fenway park. deGrom answered the call, extending his streak to 27 starts allowing three runs or fewer.

Although the Mets lost the game, they were able to tie the game in the top of the seventh to avoid handing deGrom another loss for a sparkling effort. deGrom, ever the perfectionist, wasn’t happy with the outing and gave an all too familiar quote after the game.

I’m not happy with it. I don’t like giving up runs. … I want to win every baseball game I throw, but it hasn’t gone that way this year for me.

It has not indeed. deGrom was the last person to blame for how his season went, but the consummate professional always blamed himself before he blamed others when many other pitchers would have gone off the rails. For that, he not only deserves a Cy Young, he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

As if we expected anything less, deGrom ended his season with an exclamation point. He threw eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out ten Braves. On the final pitch of his historic season, he struck out the 1,000th batter of his career—the fastest to that mark in franchise history.

The crowd was invested from start to finish, as deGrom lowered his ERA to an even 1.70 for the season and notched his tenth win—a symbolic, but important mark.

What we witnessed out of Jacob deGrom this season was something truly remarkable—a once-in-a-generation achievement. It is something we will be able to tell future generations of Mets fans we got to see happen in real time. So, despite the fact that the Mets have a lot of question marks going into next season, I’m still basking in the Jacob deGrom-induced afterglow.