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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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He Who Smiles Last

Perhaps Jacob deGrom struck a shady deal with the Devil at a forlorn crossroads one night … and didn’t look carefully enough at the fine print.

You see where this is going. Any pitcher would sign over his soul — or at least a good chunk of his discretionary income — in exchange for pitching at least six innings and giving up two runs or less in every start. It’s only later that such a pitcher might think, Dang, I should have asked about run support.

DeGrom has appeared in 19 games this year. The Mets are averaging 3.6 runs in his starts. They’ve scored 12 runs for him once, in Colorado. (Surprise!) Twice they’ve scored eight runs, six and five. Then the problems emerge: the Mets have scored three runs for deGrom four times, two twice, one three times and none at all three times. That’s how you can be leading the league with a Goodenesque 1.68 ERA and be 5-4 on the year.

You probably knew all that. What the numbers miss is just how ludicrously good deGrom has looked for long stretches of this season. On Wednesday night the Phillies — the first-place Phillies — looked simply helpless against him. They’re not alone: DeGrom has four plus pitches, impeccable location, and a Seaveresque ability to both outthink enemy batters and overpower them. To get to him, you have to guess what he’s going to throw, where he’s going to throw it, make the adjustment from what he threw last and where he threw it, and then actually hit what’s coming your way.

It’s too tall an order a lot of the time … and yet deGrom’s excellence often winds up surprising me. Part of it is that he’s tall and skinny and frankly gentle-looking, lacking the sheer physical presence and gunfighter stare of Noah Syndergaard or prelapsarian Matt Harvey. His pitches don’t lend themselves to jaw-dropping GIFs and amused/amazed head-shakes. But he doesn’t need to look scary or have an arsenal that lends itself to memes. To appreciate him, you have to watch the progression of pitches, at-bats and innings. Yes, he can overpower hitters if he has to. But he usually doesn’t need to — he disarms them before reaching that situation.

The best plan facing deGrom when he’s on is to wait for some other Met to fail. Unfortunately, that’s been a sound strategy for much of this woeful year. The bats will do little or nothing, and eventually the defense will stagger, the bullpen will falter, and deGrom will trudge up the clubhouse tunnel with his expression carefully blank.

That was the blueprint Wednesday night: deGrom was untouchable for eight innings, but the Mets weren’t touching anything either. Their tally through eight: an Amed Rosario single, a Wilmer Flores single, an enemy error that allowed recidivist Met Matt den Dekker to go to first, walks to Michael Conforto and Rosario, and an intentional pass to Asdrubal Cabrera. When deGrom headed up the tunnel with another no-decision, no Met had reached third.

With deGrom gone, I braced myself for another miserable loss, to be followed by clubhouse stoicism and trade rumors. You probably did too. But somehow that didn’t happen. Rosario doubled with two out in the 10th against Mark Leiter Jr., Jose Reyes (who’d short-circuited a Phillie threat with a heads-up play to catch Andrew Knapp, um, napping) walked, and Brandon Nimmo blasted Leiter’s first pitch over the right-field fence.

It all happened in a minute or two — the Mets went from needing a mirror held up to their collective mouth to being winners. (Robert Gsellman now has six wins, which I hope deGrom can laugh about.) Nimmo floated around the bases with his trademark grin even bigger than usual, was greeted with a shower of gum (ouch), and immediately thanked the fans, because he’s Brandon Nimmo. In connecting with one pitch, he collected as many bases as the Mets had recorded via hits all night.

The Mets, weirdly, have secured their last three wins via walk-off homers: Jose Bautista beat the Rays last Friday, Flores welcomed Larry to the ballpark against the Phils on Monday, and Nimmo was the hero Wednesday night. Which suggests the possibility of another deal with the Devil. What if we got to hit three walk-offs a week? The fans would love that, right?

Well yeah, they probably wouldn’t object. But the suspicious among those fans might also ask about the rest of the week and suggest a careful look at the fine print.

7 comments to He Who Smiles Last

  • Curt

    I keep going back to a few years ago when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with basically a .500 record. I think finishing 8-6 would be good enough wouldn’t it? Particularly when you consider the handicap he faces by not having the opportunity to pitch against the Mets.

    We know what Wilmer Flores’ mother does for a living. She’s the official scorer at Citi Field for the season. Don’t even remember who the batter was but no way that’s a hit.

    DeGrom is worth watching, the Mets aren’t. So I watched last night.

  • LeClerc

    All Hail the Great DeGrom.

    Also: Thanks for den Dekker’s (not a trap) catch.

    Rosario’s two-out double.

    Reyes’ (that was a check-swing) two-out walk.

    Nimmo’s The Smile that Devoured Philadelphia.

  • Steve D

    Time to look at bright side…we haven’t traded deGrom yet. Also, though the Mets have the worst home batting average in the majors by 19 points, it is still over the Mendoza line at .207. This leads to the need for those exiting walkoffs…if you can stay awake.

  • Shawn B

    The good times are back at Citi Field! And don’t forget it’s Jose Bautista Mouth Guard Day this Sunday for the first 15,000 fans.

    Do you think the Wilpons ensure that all of this walk-off gum is picked up at home plate and placed back in the bucket for the next game?

  • Jacobs27

    The booth made some Groundhog Day references again last night regarding how all of deGrom’s starts make you feel like we’re stuck in a loop. That’s certainly true. But Brandom Nimmo’s unbridled nimmosity at the end and Jason’s reference to a deal with the devil make me think of another part of that movie. At one point Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita, says to Bill Murray’s character, “I don’t know, Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it!” And Phil responds, with something bordering on admiration, “Gosh, you’re an upbeat lady!” That’s how I feel about Nimmo. Gosh, he’s an upbeat guy. Bless his soul.

    As it happens, maybe the Mets have a formula going finally. deGrom shuts the other team down for most of regulation, the offense definitely sees its shadow the whole game until a feel-good story suddenly (eventually) connects for a walk-off. I’ll take it.

  • 9th string catcher

    Look out – here come the July Mets! Already have as many wins in July as we had in June! The comeback is on!