The last time the Mets tried to name a day of the week after a starting pitcher, it didn’t really work out all that well, did it, Matt Harvey?
Still, when you have tickets for a Mets game — or are assigned by the boss to take the trek to Queens — there is only one way to tick off the days of the week on your fingers, and that is, Sunday … Monday … Tuesday … deGrom… Thursday … Friday … Saturday …
Another night, another episode of “Masterpiece Theatre” delivered by Jacob deGrom, whose borderline historic season has been worth the price of admission even when that includes added ticket fees.
Eight innings of shutout ball may not have been enough — again — to get a victory, even if the Mets persevered to win 3-0 in 10 innings over the Phillies on Brandon Nimmo’s pinch-hit three-run homer.
Thus, the pitcher’s record remained at a disconnected 5-4 even with a major league-leading ERA that dipped to 1.68. The Mets have won 11 of their ace’s 19 starts.
“I think the most impressive part is his ability not to worry about the lack of offense,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Not everyone can just weather the storm like that. It’s pretty impressive.”
The franchise’s royal blood line coagulates on the mound. If a modern-day Met is linked with his team’s ancestry, it is never a bad thing to be included in a conversation that features Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
For those are the pitchers who set the high bars deGrom is approaching this season — in which the number of days he has remaining in a Mets uniform could be about as limited as the number of times he has failed this season. That is the ancestry to which his DNA is linked.
DeGrom surrendered five hits, pounded 75 of 113 pitches into the strike zone and allowed two men to get as far as second base. That would represent the second-best single-season ERA in franchise history behind Gooden’s 1.53 in his otherworldly 1985 and just ahead of Seaver’s 1.76 in a typically brilliant 1971.
But there is another franchise record that deGrom is approaching. This one isn’t held by Seaver or Gooden; by Jerry Koosman or Jon Matlack; by David Cone, Ron Darling, Al Leiter or even Harvey.
No, this one is held by Roger Craig, the ace of Casey Stengel’s staff during the team’s initial two seasons at the Polo Grounds. Craig had an estimable big league career before later making an indelible mark as a pitching coach and manager. He was 10-24 in 1962 and 5-22 the following year while enduring an-18 game losing streak.
When you are approaching a record established by Craig, you know it is a dubious achievement. The one that is in deGrom’s sight is not just a franchise record, it is a major league record. In 1963, Craig started eight games in which he did not get a victory after pitching at least seven innings while allowing no more than one run. This performance pushed deGrom to seven on the Craig Meter.
And it is this stat and record (thanks baseball-reference.com play index) that has defined deGrom’s 2018. It is as if a shroud has hung over the mound while he has cranked out a succession of 97 mph four-seamers. This is a year to be celebrated. Rather, it has become a curiosity, if not an object of pity.
But not a whiff of self-pity from the pitcher himself.
“When I’m out there I think it’s zero-to-zero the whole time … which it was tonight,” he said. “That’s kind of the thought process. It’s the mindset I’ve had since I started pitching.”
Noah Syndergaard, sidelined since May 25 with a right index finger issue, will start for the Mets on Friday against the Nationals. It might be considered the first of two or three showcase starts for Syndergaard prior to the July 31 non-waivers deadline. It is hardly clear that COO Jeff Wilpon would authorize a trade for either deGrom or Syndergaard regardless of what is offered in return, but rest assured: It will be his call. The three-man executive committee of John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya will advise, but ownership will have to consent.
Callaway was talking before the game about how the Phillies’ ascent to the top of the division, now even with Atlanta and 5 ¹/₂ games ahead of Washington, taught the lesson that, “If you take the right approach, anything can happen.”
So far, mostly bad things have happened to the Mets. Mostly bad things to deGrom, too. That’s the way it is when a Mets pitcher approaching one record held by Gooden simultaneously approaches another one held by Craig.