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DeGrom Strikes Out Disgust

Following a Monday night when it hit me just how few innings remain to this season, I sort of retroactively wish the Mets could have deprived us of two or three from their twelfth-to-last game of 2014. It was an extraordinary night at Citi Field through six. It was a night that was surely meant to be through seven.

Alas, it was another one of those nights in the eighth and ninth, with the kind of ending that would leave you disgusted if you still maintained the capacity for disgust with these Mets. I was certainly disgusted to have to leave a game that commenced with a Met pitcher striking out the first eight batters he faced — and thirteen in all — yet concluded with the Mets losing to the Stupid Marlins [1] (their official name), 6-5.

Then you step back, you realize you witnessed baseball history and are suddenly running out of baseball games, and your disgust diminishes…a little, anyway. In the middle of September, with month after month of aridity about to overwhelm us, it’s probably best to flip a Broadway bromide [2] on its head and decide it’s not where you finish, but where you start.

Or who you start.

Our starter, Jacob deGrom [3], was so good that he transcended the usual memes we’ve come to associate with him. Never mind the small ‘d’ at the front of his last name and look past the impressively long hair that flows out from under the back of his cap. His calling card right now has to be the record he set as he struck out more batters to start a Mets game than any Mets pitcher ever and more than any major league pitcher ever but one. He broke Pete Falcone [4]’s team record of six (which also came in a loss [5]) and he tied Jim Deshaies [6]’s modern record of eight [7]. As admirable as all that looks on paper, it was even more scintillating to watch from not too many feet away.

Thanks to a generous invitation from old buddy Matt Silverman [8], I was seated in the section behind the Mets dugout, about a dozen rows up, arriving somewhere between K-2 and K-3 (missing K-1 because I had detoured on my way in to El Verano Taqueria for the highly recommended chicken burrito). Just after I settled in, I heard it exclaimed, “He struck out the side!” On another night I might not have immediately noticed, but this was a particularly engaged row and deGrom was way too electric to not keep your eyes on.

People were uncommonly into what was going on in front of them. I spotted a pair of those #HAIRWEGO posters [9] reconfigured by their recipients, the face portion punched out and the rest of it worn mask style, transforming otherwise unassuming fans into deGroppelgängers. Meanwhile, the strikeouts just kept coming. Jacob kept whipping it in and the Marlins kept whiffing right through. He had four…five…six. The Mets had one…two runs, and that seemed sufficient as Jacob notched strikeouts number seven (a mostly unnoticed Jordany Valdespin [10]) and eight (Jeff Mathis [11]). We wanted to be certain No. 9 would be next — and I was willing to issue Jacob a waiver regarding my rule that nobody’s allowed to touch Tom Seaver [12]’s ten consecutive from 1970 — but the batter was the pitcher, Jarred Cosart [13], and Matt and I agreed that if anybody was going to not strike out, somehow it would be the opposing pitcher.

Of course it was. Still, eight straight to begin a game was something you literally almost never see. And we saw it. It was fantastic. It would have been more fantastic had the fanning of the Fish been accomplished in service to a Mets win, but that would be a lot to ask of this team, no matter how “very, very close [14]” to contending they are considered by their Manager For Life [15].

On the 45th anniversary of the night Ron Swoboda [16] rendered Steve Carlton [17]’s 19 strikeouts moot [18], the Mets led 2-0 into the seventh, with deGrom’s K count up to 13, or as many as any Met pitcher has compiled at Citi Field (matching Chris Capuano [19] and R.A. Dickey [20]). But then the Stupid Marlins made contact and grabbed a 3-2 advantage. But then the Mets took back the lead at 5-3. Hence, I decided, we were gonna get deGrom — who’d departed for a pinch-hitter — the win after all. He’d grab attention, he’d raise his profile, he’d race perceptibly past Billy Hamilton [21] and he’d close in on the National League Rookie of the Year award that a player only gets one chance at, so why shouldn’t a Met get it for the first time in thirty years?

The Stupid Marlins, as the Stupid Marlins will do, torpedoed the “win” part by scoring three in the eighth off Jeurys Familia [22] and Jenrry Mejia [23] (the latter prompting a harsh “WHY DON’T YOU DO YOUR DANCE NOW!?!?!” catcall from a few rows behind me) and the Met hitters reverted to overmatched. Once the last outs were limply registered, I wasn’t in the mood to have relished what I had just experienced.

I softened by the time I was on the train home. I did see history. I did see a marker for the future, as I envisioned deGrom pitching at Citi in a far different, far better September. I did quite possibly see an award clinched, though that’s up to others to decide. I did see Matt and a procession of friendly, familiar faces in the course of the evening, which is something that, sadly, won’t happen on a Monday night again for an uncomfortably long stretch otherwise known as winter. I did find myself especially charmed to be sitting adjacent to Wanda Metsfan (her official name), somebody who takes herself out to the ballgame even more than I do. Why, for a spell, we were visited by both Cowbell Man (who seems to have lost his Shea-era hyphen) and Pinman, who, I discovered, not only wears dozens of pins but yells “OH YEAH!” a lot.

In that spirit (and despite a nagging headache that made Pinman’s yelling and Cowbell Man’s clanging not all that welcome after a while), yeah, I kind of wish the game could have gone into the books after seven, when the Mets were winning. But no, I wouldn’t wish away too many innings when there are only precious few left to enjoy.