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Kicking Ace & Taking Names

You know that feeling of serene confidence you get as a Mets fan when they give their pitcher an early lead? Probably not, but it’s been known to exist. It existed for me Tuesday night. I was as surprised as anybody that it did.

In the second, Mariner center fielder James Jones [1]’s eyes proved bigger than his glove, enabling a Travis d’Arnaud [2] sinking liner to triple its word score and drive home Bobby Abreu [3]. Soon-to-be-dinged Ruben Tejada [4] — who apparently serves as his own backup on the infielder-deprived Mets — proceeded to single Travis in from third, putting the Mets up, 2-0. I assessed the situation and very matter-of-factly thought, OK, we’re good. They gave deGrom two runs. He’ll do the rest.

Serenity now? What an odd sensation, but it proved prescient. True, a few more runs off the otherwise impenetrable Erasmo (a.k.a. AWESOM-O [5]) Ramirez would have been welcome…and, yes, Daniel Murphy [6] did try to make it more of a contest than it had to be when he received a relay from Juan Lagares [7] and fired it clear to Walla Walla…and, sure, eventually I assumed all would go to Pacific Northwestern hell, a dark nether region that I imagine reeks of coffee and mildew…yet when the Mets supplied Jacob deGrom [8] with a two-run margin, I figured all would end well.

And it did [9]. The Mets captured their first-ever win in Seattle, thanks mainly to the pitcher who’s making a strong case to supplant C.J. Wilson [10] as baseball’s primary shampoo pitchman. The Rapunzel of the Met rotation went beautifully long once again — 7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 7 SO — and as he commenced to mow down every teammate of Endy Chavez [11]’s (who are these American Leaguers we keep bumping into?), Gary Cohen would intermittently refer to this or that freshman hurler from the Metropolitan mists whose precedent deGrom was meeting and matching. No Met rookie pitcher had done what Jacob’s been doing as a matter of course since Dwight Gooden [12]! Or Nolan Ryan [13]! Or Jerry Koosman [14]!

Those are names that’ll grab your attention even as you’re crossing midnight and drifting into a field of dreams.

DeGrom really has been quite effective. Over his past six starts, he’s posted an ERA of 1.59 in 39.2 innings, striking out 45 batters while allowing only 45 baserunners. He’s been the best pitcher the Mets have sent moundward every five days for a solid month, which explains why Terry Collins was publicly contemplating shoving him into the bullpen for his own good [15]; keeping his most talented kids from filling primary roles is a critical component of the skipper’s mediocrity protection program.

Given the various pains that have afflicted every other starter this season, whether they’ve been physical (Gee, Niese), growing (Wheeler) or the result of growing inexorably older (Colon), deGrom has begun to feel like the ace around here. I usually consider “ace” an overblown title. You know who you need to be the ace of your staff? Everybody. You need an ace every night. Or you need whoever’s pitching to pitch like an ace when it’s his turn. Since late last August, the Mets have had several guys live up to that description for stretches.

Gee finished 2013 as the most dependable of Mets. There was a spell earlier this season when Colon could calm your nerves and disrupt a losing streak. Niese, when not appraising the caliber of our fandom as something quite ordinary [16], bordered on the extraordinary. And on occasion Wheeler’s leaps forward have dazzled us enough to make us forget the stumbles and falls he’s taken along the way. These days, it’s deGrom getting his ace on, proving it’s never too soon to a) get carried away by a rookie pitcher on a roll and b) blow away batters in opposing uniforms.

You know when I didn’t consider “ace” an overblown title? Last year until August 26 [17] when we had an ace who pitched like an ace every five days [18] and I looked forward to that fifth day and even when his offense didn’t sufficiently support him, I didn’t much fret because I looked at Matt Harvey [19] and decided with long dormant but deeply ingrained Seaverian certainty, “He’s got this.”

What he got soon enough was his unsettlingly common Tommy John [20] surgery, followed by his own brand of Tommy Hilfiger rehab [21]. Though Matt’s on the scene half the time (I live for those stray shots of him just chillin’ in the Citi Field dugout), he’s not on the mound at all. You can’t say starting pitching hasn’t been a strength for these otherwise scuffling 2014 Mets, but you can’t tell me Harvey’s injury and absence didn’t create a void, at least spiritually. Matt not pitching certainly torpedoed my spirits.

Jacob pitching as he has and evoking so many past masters in the process has undoubtedly lifted them.