Jacob deGrom pitched brilliantly yet did not win. But since it was Opening Day — even in late July — the Mets did. That was all quite familiar. So much else was not. It still takes getting used to cardboard cutout fans, piped in noise and a designated hitter in a National League park. Especially …
Jacob deGrom pitched brilliantly yet did not win. But since it was Opening Day — even in late July — the Mets did.
That was all quite familiar.
So much else was not. It still takes getting used to cardboard cutout fans, piped in noise and a designated hitter in a National League park. Especially when that DH is Yoenis Cespedes. He had not played a major league game in 735 days, since July 20, 2018. He homered that game against the Yankees, just as he did Friday in the seventh inning against Braves reliever Chris Martin.
Afterward, Cespedes said, “I will return to being the player from back then.” Imagine what that could mean for the Mets. On Friday, his homer represented the entirety of scoring at Citi Field in a game in which the teams combined to go hitless in 20 at-bats with runners on base.
The final score was 1-0, which also is now Luis Rojas’ record as a major league manager.
Rojas orchestrated his pitching well, limiting deGrom to five innings and 72 pitches in the righty’s first start after needing to shut himself down due to back discomfort. Rojas turned to Seth Lugo for two innings, to Justin Wilson to setup rather than Dellin Betances or Jeurys Familia and entrusted Diaz to close through the heart of the Braves’ order. Perhaps Diaz was helped by the fact cardboard fans never boo or transmit anxiety.
The Mets improved their major league-best mark to 39-20 in season openers, including now 1-0 in a pandemic.
As the four teams that opened the season Thursday night had, Mets and Braves players held a 200-foot piece of black fabric as a pregame statement on social injustice. But no uniformed personnel kneeled before or during a national anthem that was performed on video by a relay of essential workers.
DeGrom had begun to watch Gerrit Cole’s Yankees debut Thursday in the first MLB game of this season, but had to switch to cartoons when he was “outvoted 2-to-1” by his family. If nothing else, the first two days of the season provided validation that New York has the two best starters in the world and that the duo could be playing “any pitch you can throw, I can throw better” in this shortened season.
Gerrit Cole held the defending World Series champ Nationals to one hit and one run in five innings. DeGrom held the defending NL East champ Braves to one hit and no runs in five innings, agreeing with his manager that it would be best not to push beyond that limit without being fully stretched out yet.
“He was Jake today,” Rojas said. It is like saying he was Gibson today or he was Maddux today. DeGrom is now up to 28 consecutive scoreless innings bridging to last season.
DeGrom insisted he was not caught up in any intracity bout of dueling aces. It was the kind of robotic answer now expected of deGrom. Except he is no android. Even with his tunnel vision and game face, deGrom recognized the absence of standard ambience, the mute button on this event. He found himself interacting with hitters more than ever because, well, what else was there to do? Where else was there to look?
The competitive interaction did not go well for the Braves hitters. DeGrom hit triple-digits with his fastball in the first inning. He faced 17 hitters in all, got ahead of 10 either 0-2 or 1-2. The only hit against him was a broken-bat dribbled single by Ronald Acuna Jr. on a 0-2 pitch. He never let a runner get beyond first and he never gave up a run or received one in support.
This marked the 35th time that deGrom had allowed no runs over at least five innings, and in 12 of them — more than one-third — he received a no-decision. It has been common to remark that he has nothing to show for his work, but of course he has two Cy Youngs. He is acknowledged as a pitching genius and an admired teammate because, as Rojas said, “Jake is never going to complain or say anything to the guys.”
What is there to say? The weight is only greater on the Mets to win when deGrom pitches with Noah Syndergaard out for the year and Marcus Stroman for at least the near future. They did win because of one swing.
Amid the unfamiliar environment, the power of deGrom and Cespedes was enough to bring familiar Opening Day success for the Mets.