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It’s Pitchcraft

When you arouse the need in me
My heart says yes indeed in me
Proceed with what you’re leading me to

Contrary to published reports [1], Frank Sinatra does not have a cold. He’s never been healthier. To clarify, I don’t mean the Frank Sinatra, but the closest thing contemporary baseball has to him. This iteration of Sinatra, whose right arm almost never delivers a false note, takes his particular stage every fifth day. Or night. Night and day, he is the one. The range. The phrasing. The elegance. The ability to make every number, from 48 to 1.70, his.

You want more numbers to support this assertion that Jacob deGrom [2] pitches like Frank Sinatra sang? Try a career-high 14 strikeouts in seven innings versus the Marlins on Wednesday night following 10 in six innings the last time he performed. Try 13 scoreless innings in these two starts (both victories) as an apropos encore to the way he ended his 2018 tour [3]. Try 26 consecutive quality starts, tying a major league record that previously belonged solely to a legend named Bob Gibson. Try a 1.55 ERA over those 26 outings. Try 237 strikeouts in 185⅔ innings during this span, versus 34 walks. Try a 1.55 ERA from May 18, 2018, through April 3, 2019. It’s been a very good year.

Every number is Jacob deGrom’s, and music would be nowhere without mathematics, but how about just sitting back and soaking him in? An evening with Jacob deGrom might as well be a night on the town with Frank Sinatra and friends providing the soundtrack. Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan…Jake is a pitcher straight out of the Great American Songbook [4]. His outings are popular standards that deserve to be relished across consecutive centuries. Tune into WNYC [5] (93.9 FM in New York City) this Saturday night between eight and midnight when Paul Cavalconte digs deep into the Songbook and tell me watching deGrom pitch doesn’t feel like listening to these American masters at the top of their game.

It would be a harsh exercise in self-denial to limit the selections on any Best of deGrom compilation to a single disc. The artist’s output demands a stream of revised editions crammed with bonus tracks. No way would you want to leave out stuff from Cy After Cy: Live at Marlins Park [6]. It’s already a classic of the genre. The aforementioned fourteen K’s were showstoppers, but the general excellence was as breathtaking as it was satisfying. First there were fastballs and sliders — hard sliders. Breaking balls, too. They all worked to near-perfection. Later, Jake mixed in changeups that you didn’t think would be on the setlist, but oh, how they played. It was as if a top-flight starter called himself in from the bullpen to give the opposing team a different look.

Whatever the Marlins saw, they couldn’t hit. The only letdown to deGrom’s show was that after 114 pitches, he couldn’t be his opening and closing act; maybe Tom Dreesen [7] could throw the first two innings next time. To be fair, how is anybody supposed to follow Jacob deGrom? Mickey Callaway’s ever curious orchestration of the first-place Mets left an unusually robust 6-0 lead in the hands of Luis Avilán [8], which was fine for the eighth, but not so splendid in the ninth. Avilán and Robert Gsellman [9] conspired to trim the Mets’ advantage to 6-4, necessitating a quick cameo by Edwin Diaz [10] to thankfully convert a save opportunity that minutes earlier seemed absurd. How absurd? More absurd than the idea that one of the six runs scored on deGrom’s behalf occurred because deGrom himself hit a home run.

That wasn’t absurd. That happened in the third inning, via a high fly that soared over the right field fence, traversing a distance balls thrown by deGrom rarely travel. Most nights for most pitchers, the starting pitcher homering would stand as the highlight of the evening. In the context of Jake, this righteous blow against both Trevor Richards and the concept of the universal DH amounted to a pleasant diversion, à la Sinatra going on about ants moving rubber tree plants. Frank came mostly to sing for young lovers in the wee small hours. Jake showed up to set down Marlins.

The best can do it all and do it better than anybody. To paraphrase Dean Martin, it’s Jake’s world, we just live in it.