Two Met aces swapped half-innings on the mound at SunTrust Park Saturday night, arguably the two most effective aces the Mets have had in this decade. R.A. Dickey  didn’t wear the ace title all that long, but nobody used it to greater effect than the knuckleballer did in the latter portions of 2012. Johan Santana was on the shelf, Matt Harvey had just arrived and Dickey became the shiningest object of our affections every fifth day. He was working toward 20 wins and a Cy Young, both of which he captured by the time the most magical of his three ethereal seasons as a Met was through.
And then he was, Metwise, traded at the height of his powers and popularity in an exchange of present for future that looks great when it works perfectly and has yet to look bad even when not every piece that came in return has proven optimally functional. R.A. didn’t get better (let alone grow more colorful) as a Blue Jay, which was thoughtful of him, because if he had, we’d be required to sneer at the sight of him the way we do when other Met alumni dare succeed from a distance or, worse, at our direct expense. When he signed with the Braves, Dickey could have entered nuisance territory, but New York and Atlanta have avoided reigniting their ancient rivalry. I’d reckon if a Mets fan had to grudgingly allow any ex-Met to prevail over the current Mets (give or take a Bartolo Colon), it would be R.A. Dickey.
That is unless Dickey had the ill-timed fortune of facing Jacob deGrom , once considered an ace among aces, now indisputably the only ace in town. Jacob’s in his fourth season, and has rarely been any less than the second-best pitcher the Mets are packing. This year he’s been the best from start to almost finish. Rumors to the contrary , there is no Noah Syndergaard — he who is ours because Dickey was sent to Canada — on the active roster. Harvey wears a jersey with his last name on the back, but is otherwise unrecognizable from his brightest Dark Knight days. Nobody else answering to the description of ace, actual or potential, lurks within what can be referred to loosely as the Mets rotation. No Steven Matz. No Zack Wheeler. No, it’s just Jacob deGrom, and on Saturday night, it was Jacob deGrom going for his 15th win.
Sorry, R.A. Our heart necessarily belonged to Jake. As did the ballgame, an easy win for the pitcher who came to the Mets with little fanfare and delivered big results. That description would apply to R.A. in his time, too, but that time was a while ago. There’s so little contemporary for Mets fans to get jazzed for. We had to be jazzed for Jacob going seven, giving up only one run and cruising to a 7-3 victory . Against a more randomly slotted Mets starter, we might have looked the other way and permitted ourselves a round of applause for Robert Allen had he shut down the 2017 Mets as he so often shut down the Mets’ 2012 opponents. But deGrom isn’t random. DeGrom is our reigning righthander of record. He pitches and his teammates regularly bestow on his well-tressed head a crown. Jacob’s been the king of the clubhouse eleven separate times  this year. He rules and everybody knows it.
Maybe deGrom will find a 16th and 17th win in his two remaining starts. If he doesn’t, then we’ll call 15 wins a monumental achievement on these 64-84 Mets. On these Mets, 15 wins might as well be the 20 Dickey racked up for the 2012 Mets, whose second-half collapse spiraled into a 74-88 finish. On these Mets, 15 wins feel almost like the 27 Steve Carlton pulled down for the 59-97 Phillies of 1972. When you’re a highly achieving starting pitcher on a relentlessly dreadful team, the gap between you and your mates could fill the Grand Canyon.
That trade , the one in which Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas became Jays while Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra became Mets and/or Mets prospects remains golden if not precisely as platinum as it appeared a couple of years ago . We’re willing to believe, with fingers tightly crossed, that Thor will reemerge relatively intact in 2018. Even a somewhat diminished blond warrior would be better than every nondeGrominational starter the Mets feature right now. D’Arnaud struggles to maintain adequacy, but he’s still here, can still claim half a regular role and continues to inspire the front office’s confidence, at least in public. Buck became Dilson Herrera and Vic Black, which didn’t turn into quite the secondary bounty as we giddily projected it would circa 2013, but Herrera became Jay Bruce, and Jay Bruce, en route to gulps of champagne in Cleveland, became Ryder Ryan, who threw some good innings for the Columbia Fireflies, which can be taken optimistically if you are inclined. I occasionally see Becerra’s name in the prospect listings, so the full quantity of juice to be squeezed from the multifaceted December 2012 transaction is as yet unknown.
Putting aside what we received in return for R.A., the key to the trade never tarnishing may simply be that Dickey left. I didn’t want him to leave. I doubt any Mets fan was happy with the concept of going Dickeyless so soon after he brought us joy and honors and a reason to cheer in an era when there was little that thrilled us on contact. But by expediting his au revoir, R.A. never had a chance to diminish before our eyes. There was little likelihood that he was gonna win another Cy Young or go to another All-Star game or win close to 20 games again. Hence, we would have watched Dickey succeed less than we had previously witnessed; and we would have regularly measured him against his highest standard; and he would have come up short; and we would have reflexively held it against him, whether benignly or with malice.
In the first ten years of Faith and Fear, we experienced four charismatic pitching aces  at or close to the top of their capabilities: Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey. Writing about each pitcher at his peak was my favorite part of blogging when they were on, just like rooting for them was my favorite part of being a Mets fan during their respective peaks. But with Pedro, Johan and Matt, there came a downside. There was injury, there was age, there was inevitable disappointment and, ultimately, writing about them became an exercise in then versus now, then always getting the W, now taking, at best, a tough no-decision. Just the other day I framed Harvey’s latest start in that context . It’s almost impossible not to when you see a pitcher you saw be a wholly different pitcher. I prefer to think of Pedro Martinez in 2005, Johan Santana in 2008, Matt Harvey in 2013. When Pedro can’t get through five innings in 2008, Johan returns to the DL in 2012 and Harvey is lost in 2017, you can’t ignore it. Syndergaard carved his name among these pitching gods in 2016. We can only hope the signature won’t grow faint.
For R.A. Dickey, New York Mets ace, it will always be 2012, just like it oughta be. For Jacob deGrom, New York Mets ace, it’s generally start after start and year after year of excellence. Watching him pitch at the top of his capabilities is not quite the transcendent experience it’s been watching some others, but we’ll sign in an instant for him to roll on exactly as he has indefinitely.