Some seventy years ago, a University of Oklahoma president by the name of George Lynn Cross delivered the money quote that forever defines the run-amok enterprise that is major college sports.
“I want to build a university the football team can be proud of,” Cross said.
That’s kind of where the Mets are today. They need to field a baseball team that Jacob deGrom can be proud of.
They have failed in that pursuit now for far too long. DeGrom is in his eighth season in the majors, approaching his 33rd birthday, and the Mets have wasted too much of his prime. They have made one serious run with him, in 2015, before losing the World Series to the Royals in five games. They have now missed the playoffs with him in four consecutive seasons, and it would be quite a shame to make it five in a row.
Wednesday night, deGrom did not have his otherworldly stuff against the Red Sox, an opponent that represented a step up in weight class. But his stuff was sure as hell good enough to win a ballgame. He gave up one run and three hits while striking out nine over six innings, and the Mets responded with an effort best described as indifferent. By the time deGrom had thrown his final pitch, the Mets had managed one hit against Nick Pivetta. One. They suffered their second straight loss to Boston, this one 1-0, and finished with a grand total of one run in these two games.
“We’re off,” Luis Rojas said. “We’ve just got to clean it up.”
Preferably sometime before Jacob deGrom turns 40 years old.
After taking the mound with a 0.31 ERA and a big league record 50 strikeouts in his first four starts, deGrom surrendered a few loud doubles while minimizing the damage. He fought the Red Sox for as long as he could, waiting for his offense to inflict some damage against a starter with a career record of 23-30 and a career ERA of 5.31. It never happened. The whole night was another excruciating exercise in watching deGrom, a master of his craft, get compromised by an offensive display that was, well, offensive.
“I try not to think too much about it,” deGrom said of his lack of support. “I’m more disappointed I wasn’t able to make pitches there in the second inning.”
He gave up his one run in that inning, and ended up saddled with the loss. In fact, deGrom has allowed two earned runs in his five starts, with two losses to show for it. Yet there he was Wednesday night, blaming himself for being human in a game that required a superhuman effort. DeGrom said he was displeased with his mechanics, that he was flying open, that everything seemed flat. He said he couldn’t locate his fastball, or anything else, like he had in his previous outings.
Again, this from a man who had given a performance that would be considered exceptional by any standard but his own.
“He was tremendous again,” Rojas said. “We didn’t back that up.”
It has been a consistent narrative thread throughout deGrom’s career. And yet he is already being hailed as a future Hall of Famer and as baseball’s answer to Tom Brady, who was drafted 199th overall by the Patriots in 2000, 10 years before deGrom was drafted 272nd overall by the Mets. Quarterbacks and pitchers are apples and oranges, but deGrom is one of those athletes who deserved his own baseball Belichick, a manager or executive who could build a program that would give him the support needed to be a postseason fixture.
Before Wednesday night’s game, the former general manager who drafted deGrom in the ninth round, Omar Minaya, was on the phone talking about the reason the franchise picked the converted shortstop from Stetson University. Minaya was a big believer in athleticism, and the Mets’ scouts on the ground saw that quality in deGrom.
In the fifth inning against the Red Sox, deGrom used that athleticism to beat out a potential double-play ball.
“I wanted to give [Brandon] Nimmo a chance with a runner on,” deGrom said. On cue, Nimmo struck out to end the inning.
In the ninth, Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith all went down swinging, earning boos from a Citi Field crowd that didn’t reserve them just for Francisco Lindor this time.
DeGrom was the one who took the biggest hit in the end. When Minaya has bumped into him here and there, he has asked his former draft pick with a smile, “How does it feel to be the best pitcher in the world?”
Answer: Not so great when the Mets can’t field a team worthy of that pitcher’s prime.
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