- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Deep Thoughts by Jacob deGrom

A pitcher homering is baseball porn [1], pure and simple. A pitcher pitching eight innings and giving up no earned runs is more exotic than it used to be, maybe more exotic than it oughta be. Which would you rather have?

You’d rather have both if you can, and we could on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Sunday afternoons at Citi Field this season have generally encompassed Mets starting pitchers barely lasting past The Star-Spangled Banner and the vast majority of taters being mashed by visiting chefs. On Father’s Day 2017, however, Jacob deGrom [2] was big daddy to us all in every way, putting up all those zeroes from the mound and sending one baseball over the left field fence from the plate.

I was so excited when deGrom’s 379-foot fly ball off Joe Ross [3] launched at an angle of 32 degrees and exited at a velocity of 95.1 miles per hour (someday those metrics will mean something to us) that I might have missed Commissioner Rob Manfred’s unilateral edict that the designated hitter was instantaneously abolished. The moment Jacob gave those fans in the M&M seats the sweetest of treats was the moment to act. “The DH?” Manfred could have elaborated. “Eff that noise! Did ya see deGrom go deep? Did ya see and hear the reaction? Pitchers hitting homers…effin’ A!”

Imagine the Mets had used a DH yesterday. Admittedly, it’s a Man in the High Castle type of premise designed to chill your spine, but play along. Yoenis Cespedes [4] didn’t start on Sunday, so let’s say Cespy was the DH and he homered in the third inning as deGrom did to tie the score versus the Nationals at one. That would have been fine. That would have been dandy. But unless Yoenis’s theoretical home run whacked the gigantic floating M&M piñata squarely on the nose to release candy that melts in your mouth and not in your hands to children of all ages throughout the ballpark (which, by the way, is definitely something Citi Field should install), it would be one more early home run in one more 5-1 Mets win over Washington [5] in Flushing. Granted, Met wins of any size over Washington anywhere seem the rarest of candy-coated goodies, but a home run by a guy who is designated to hit, on balance, is a relatively routine affair. It’s also an affront to all that is true and decent about baseball, but that’s another matter altogether.

DeGrom was razor-sharp in the less glamorous facet of his Sunday assignment: three hits and two walks over eight innings, the only run at his expense facilitated by shaky Met defense. His performance was praiseworthy and, after the Mets had lost three in a row to their ostensible archrivals, noteworthy, but it’s what an ace does. Or should do and, in Jake’s case, is doing again. If Cespedes was the designated pitcher and put up a line like that, it would be gargantuan. For deGrom, the emperor of afternoon baseball (1.71 ERA in 32 such career starts), it was another day in the sun: warm and welcome, but nothing you hadn’t seen before.

A home run from Jacob deGrom is something you hadn’t seen before. A home run from a Mets pitcher is something you see rarely. Jake’s was the 55th in 55½ years of Mets history, which makes it less of an infrequent happening than some other unicornish offensive occurrences. There have been roughly half as many Met inside-the-park home runs (27 — none by a pitcher), not quite a quarter as many Met three-homer games (13 — none by a pitcher), less than a fifth as many Met cycles (10 — none by a pitcher) and about one-eighth as many pinch-hits by pitchers (7 — all by pitchers). Met pitchers hit home runs 150% more often than Met lineups give birth to Unicorn Scores (though pitchers have surely lent a hand in delivering those 22 blessed events). Perhaps a feat accomplished on average annually shouldn’t seem so absolutely extraordinary, but have you ever not reacted wildly to a pitcher homering? The unlikely slugger doesn’t have to be Bartolo Colon [6] for the home run to enchant you. When deGrom’s dinger cleared the 370 mark in left, I found myself applauding loudly enough at the TV upstairs that it attracted my wife’s interest from downstairs. She came up, poked her head in to where I was watching and let me know she saw it, too, affirming what a special bolt it was. Very few third-inning swings grab Stephanie’s attention. A pitcher homering grabs everybody’s attention.

The same pitcher cruising to a win from pitching almost an entire game is also good. A starter going that kind of deep carried us eight-ninths of the way to a much-needed victory. It just doesn’t carry us away like a pitcher going the other kind of deep. Every now and then in the course of a long season, our systems crave a lift like that. The rush eventually wears off, but it’s definitely healthier for us than M&Ms.

Thanks to Lori Rubinson of WFAN for having me on her show to discuss my book Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star [7] on Sunday night. You can listen to about two-thirds of our conversation here [8]. The other third must have been crushed by deGrom: pitcher, slugger, etcetera, etcetera.