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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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Zen and the Art of Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom’s pitching is transcendent. Wins, losses and no-decisions have all but ceased to matter. Prospective Cy Young voting feels irrelevant. Track all the statistics you like, but they’re just numbers. Measurements capture only so much of what makes deGrom an avatar of practically unprecedented excellence.

I’ve been on a bit of a journey as I’ve watched Jake over the course of the past month, traveling from bitter when the Mets don’t score on his behalf; to euphoric when they do; to disgusted when others haven’t fully recognized his brilliance; to angry when forces conspire against his fortunes; to nearly paralyzed with fear that he won’t succeed in full; until I arrived Monday night in a state of what I imagine bliss is like.

I didn’t know if the Mets would win (they did). I didn’t know if Jake would win (he didn’t). I just knew it was going to be all right, because Jake was going to be Jake and he would pitch as he has throughout this sublime season and, ultimately, nothing could hurt him or, by extension, us. The Dodgers might score an additional run after scoring one, yet they couldn’t alter his being. His teammates might not support him optimally through their offense and defense, yet it would not impede his progress. Jake would be out there on that mound for as long he was permitted to stay, seeking to get batters out because it is what he does, as if that alone is why he pitches in our midst.

The Mets winning is clearly of import to him. He is a professional competitor. He smiles broadly at postgame questioning when his team has won. He effects a sterner visage when they don’t. The answers are mostly the same regardless because the pitching is mostly the same. The pitching is of a caliber nobody else can match. DeGrom can put a different spin on a given pitch depending on occasion and urgency, but he can only say the same things so many times so many different ways.

Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the particularly impressive wrinkle to his outing was the bottom of the sixth inning, game tied at one. Given the Mets’ recent history versus Los Angeles, it was reasonable to expect walls to come crashing in via some combination of slugger, error or other creeping terror. The Mets hadn’t lost twelve in a row to L.A. by accident.

Yet there Jake was, taking on four hitters of varying pedigrees, each of them capable of ruining the end of anybody’s holiday weekend. Every one of them — Joc Pederson, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Max Muncy — challenged his abilities, demanding no fewer than seven pitches and as many as twelve pitches per his respective plate appearance. Nearly one-third of the pitches deGrom would throw Monday were thrown in one-sixth of the innings he would work. The noise level rose. Dodger fans may have a reputation for arriving late, leaving early and waving incessantly, but they do create a sound of doom when they are properly moved. Many a Mets pitcher has been swallowed up by Chavez Ravine’s momentum.

But not Jake. There’d be loud fouls. There’d be steps off the rubber There’d be moments for contemplation. But after 34 pitches, there was a strikeout of Pederson, a grounder by Turner that was mishandled by Amed Rosario, a strikeout of Machado and a perfectly positioned Jeff McNeil picking up a ground ball and firing it to Wilmer Flores to retire Muncy.

Four batters, three outs, no damage. Jacob’s pitch count had soared from 75 to 109, so that was gonna be that in terms of his active participation in the evening’s affair. The score was still 1-1. Turner had gotten him in the first for a solo home run (maybe we shouldn’t have let him go). DeGrom got the run back of his own RBI accord in the fifth (Jacob’s batting average of .167 is eerily similar to his earned run average of 1.68). Unless the Mets pushed across a run in the seventh and the bullpen protected the hypothetical lead without pause thereafter, it meant deGrom wouldn’t get a win.

I shrugged at the thought. And when the Mets proceeded to load the bases only to leave them that way in the seventh, I shrugged again. I’m past wins and losses where Jake is concerned. Jake’s season is past wins and losses. The Mets winning would be nice, I decided — and it surely was, when Brandon Nimmo arranged exactly that outcome via his ninth-inning, three-run pinch-hit homer — but what was a lack of a W going to say about deGrom that hasn’t already been said?

DeGrom’s pitching exists in another realm. The most conventional of statistics were left in the dust long ago. In some other season, when set against the portfolios being compiled by Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, we’d be compelled to make a case for deGrom because 8-8 in no way reflects his year’s inherent sparkle. C’mon, look at the ERA! Look at this peripheral this or that! Instead, early in September, it’s the opposite. Isn’t 16-6 worth something? What about 15-4? Too bad for Max and Aaron. Conventionality belongs to yesterday.

DeGrom is the word.

Mind you, the performances of those other pitchers are of concern only if we are concerning ourselves with the National League Cy Young Award. I’d welcome Jake’s being voted it, as would Mets fans everywhere, but to obsess on a slab of hardware determined by the judgment of others comes off somehow as almost gauche. Somebody’s gonna vote for Scherzer or Nola instead of deGrom when the category is best pitcher? There was a time, approximately two weeks ago, when that would incite me. I heard various expert types — Tim Kurkjian, Tom McCarthy, Michael Wilbon — weigh in, in one way or another, that Jacob deGrom didn’t seem likely to win the Cy Young or wasn’t quite worthy of it. I was infuriated. Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Inane dronery!

Now, having been privileged to tag along on deGrom’s march into history, my main thought regarding the views of those who would choose another over Jake is I will wish them enlightenment. May they see what the rest of us see. I realize it can be hard to decipher if you’re not properly positioned. Trying to make out Jake’s 1.68 ERA from the vantage point of Nola’s 2.23 or Scherzer’s 2.28 kindles visions of Laffit Pincay, Jr., the jockey on top of Sham, the fastest horse in the 1973 Belmont Stakes…except for Secretariat, who galloped home 31 lengths ahead of him.

If a Cy Young awaits deGrom, that’s delightful. If it doesn’t, I can’t promise I’ll be at peace with the verdict, but right now it really and truly strikes me as beside the point. If it can’t be earned on the field, it’s out of our hands (even Jake’s). A pennant race is about wins and losses, and its essential nature as a competition overshadows everything, especially down the stretch. The batting average derby of 2011 was about our guy outpointing his rivals; it felt natural to pull for Jose Reyes to get hits and cross our fingers that Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp didn’t. If there was a legitimate contest for the ERA crown, I might feel the same way rooting for Scherzer’s and Nola’s to tick up as I regularly thrill to deGrom’s when it dips, but lately I don’t relish their shortcomings quite so much. They’re terrific pitchers. It shouldn’t take their bugs to cast deGrom’s features in the most positive light possible.

Similarly, wins assigned to pitchers don’t tell much of this story anymore, except perhaps as curious sidebar. Drew Smith got the win Monday night because he had been the most recent Mets pitcher when Nimmo belted his untying home run. Smith pitched well for one inning. His connection to the victory was more than incidental, less than wholly determinant. I’m no longer caught up in worrying that Jake won’t get proper credit for his pitching. His pitching is credit enough. The start before the one against the Dodgers, versus the Cubs last week, was his showcase. He went eight innings that wore on me emotionally like seven games of a World Series. Not the seventh game, but seven games, evocative of those October nights when you can’t stand the idea of a single thing going against your team.

That night at Wrigley Field might have represented the Rubicon for how I’ve come to view Jacob deGrom’s 2018. I was so anxious every inning, every pitch. The Cubs must not be allowed to score more than one earned run; none would be preferable, but perfection is difficult to achieve, even for the deGroms among us. Chicago could cobble together eight hits, could work out one walk, they could leave seven men on between the first and the eighth — but there was to be no surfeit of scoring that would reflect poorly on Jacob.

And there wasn’t, which was plenty for me. Eventually there’d be bullpen and rain and suspension and resumption and, in the end, Paul Sewald (who, at 0-11 lifetime, may also have some thoughts on the efficacy of wins and losses) giving way to Daniel Zamora giving up a game-losing double to Ben Zobrist, but that was all agate compared to having watched Jacob deGrom pitch like Jacob deGrom yet again, over and over, almost untouched, something like impenetrable, perhaps even inscrutable. Wrigley last Wednesday was when I stopped stressing over what Scherzer and Nola were doing, ceased concentrating on Cy Young chances, quit resenting the impressions of others, even vaulted over the notion that “Jake deserves better” than getting dinged with no-decisions never mind defeats.

Witnessing Jacob deGrom pitching like Jacob deGrom is its own reward and award. He transcends the circumstances that surround him. Every start of his may be less an entire World Series than a ticker-tape parade for the soul.

I’ve experienced Seaver and Gooden and Dickey at their finest, to namedrop the Mets’ three Cys to date. They were extraordinarily dominant at their peak. So is Jake, I suppose, but he seems something different if not exactly something more. What distinguishes him, I think, is he seems morally opposed to giving up runs, like it’s his guiding principle. He strikes out loads of batters, but only because sometimes that’s how outs are recorded. He’s not a latter-day Dr. K in that sense. He’s phenomenal without being a phenomenon, an attraction without attracting undue attention to himself. Jacob set two records in the process of holding off the Dodgers: most quality starts in a row by a Met in one season; most consecutive starts by any major league starter giving up no more than three runs in the modern era. Jake was asked what it meant to him to have accomplished both of those feats. He admitted he wasn’t aware he had done either, but was quite polite about their significance, as if he wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of the records to which he was just at that moment introduced.

That’s so deGrom.

7 comments to Zen and the Art of Jacob deGrom

  • Mark Mehler

    The man is living proof of the world’s oldest sports cliche. In the final analysis, it is, indeed, how you play the game.

  • Ed P.

    Damn fine assessment. deLightful, even. .

  • Carol Callahan

    This sums up so well Jake’s 2018 season and my feelings about how his pitching is just in a different universe! As bad as the season has turned out to be, I will miss my every 5 day fix once the season ends.

  • Dave

    Yes, deGrom is deMan and every other lower case “de” prefix we can think of. Compared to his primary award competitors, they’re big shiny muscle cars, things that attract lots of attention and everyone wants to look at. Jacob is Mozart. He’s Picasso.

    Today on Twitter someone reminded everyone that in 1968, at this time of the season, Gibson’s ERA was actually under 1. Of course, some Millennial immediately reminded everyone old enough to have seen Gibson that Jake’s ERA compared to the rest of baseball is better than Gibson’s was (and went on to inform us that no one born before 1982 knows anything about baseball). Such comparisons are kind of pointless- one can also consider that deGrom won’t pitch something like 300 innings this year – but just the fact that we can be putting him into discussions like that is great.

    I didn’t think he could win ROY with only 9 wins either. So let’s see what happens.

  • Jacobs27

    “Every start of his may be less an entire World Series than a ticker-tape parade for the soul.”

    I think I might frame that and put it on my wall.

  • Gil

    Give the man the CY trophy. He deServes it.

  • Yvonne Laurenty

    I am so glad that Jacob deGrom was not traded when trade season was upon us. We Mets fans have a pride of ownership in this fine pitcher; most I’m sure would be devastated by the sight of our Galahad in another uniform. Bloody unthinkable!

    I may not be correct in my choice of this particular knight as I no longer recall whether this might be an unfortunate metaphorical comparison, but I think you all get what I mean.