Jacob deGrom, who took the mound Saturday night for his third start this season, appears to have settled into a routine.
Maybe it feels normal for the Mets right-hander, but the stuff that spins out of his hand is not normal.
When a string of injuries to various body parts began during the middle of last season, deGrom was put on the shelf as the best pitcher in baseball. Now that he has returned, deGrom is making it clear that title still belongs to him.
DeGrom threw six scoreless innings, in which he faced 20 hitters and retired 18, 10 by strikeout, in the Mets’ 1-0 win over the Phillies in front of a sellout crowd of 43,857, the biggest of the season and the ninth largest regular-season crowd in Citi Field history.
The Mets (74-40) were 5 ½ games clear of the Braves before Atlanta finished its doubleheader in Miami. With their 16th win in their past 19 games, the Mets improved to 31-9 after a loss this season, the best percentage in the majors.
Speaking of the best: deGrom has pitched 16 ²/₃ innings in his three starts of 2022, and he has allowed just three runs (1.62 ERA). He has not given up more than two earned runs in his past 22 home starts, which is the longest streak of all time.
Phillies batters swung at 44 of deGrom’s 76 pitches. They connected for two singles — one in the first inning by Rhys Hoskins and one in the sixth by Bryson Stott — and missed 19 times.
Phillies second baseman Nick Maton, in his 57th game as a major leaguer, stepped up in the third inning and must have felt picked on. DeGrom threw two disappearing sliders that Maton swung through. He made weak contact on a third to stay alive, then swung through the fourth. He completed his swing and stared at his dugout with eyes bulged, as if he had just seen a ghost. But deGrom is very much real.
DeGrom’s brilliance made the Mets’ minuscule offensive contribution stand up.
The Mets scored in the first inning thanks to Starling Marte’s legs, which have appeared banged-up in recent days. Marte singled, stole second and took third base when the throw escaped into center field. Pete Alonso came through again with a single off Aaron Nola for his league-leading 97th RBI.
DeGrom had his run, and he and the Mets’ bullpen made it stand up.
Seth Lugo, Trevor May — in his most important appearance of the season — and Edwin Diaz (27th save) finished off the combined three-hitter.
Diaz, whose legend grows each day, has not allowed a run in his past 20 games. He amped up the drama with a one-out walk to Hoskins, who was pinch-run for by Edmundo Sosa, and a two-out walk to J.T. Realmuto. After Sosa and Realmuto pulled off a double-steal without a throw, Diaz stranded them at second and third by striking out Nick Castellanos and punctuated the moment by pounding his chest.
The Mets finished with four hits, all singles, and walked just once. They had few chances and wasted an eighth-inning opportunity before it could even develop. Jeff McNeil walked to lead off the frame, and Tomas Nido attempted to bunt him to second, but Hoskins, the Phillies’ first baseman, was quick to the ball and started a double play.
Fortunately for the Mets, their bats were barely needed.
The Mets have scored two runs in two games against the Phillies staff, but are tied up entering the rubber game of the series Sunday because of the dominant pitching they received Saturday.
Mets pitchers struck out 14 Phillies on a night that was especially important.
Their second baseman, McNeil, had plenty of trouble throwing with a right thumb that required stitches after he was injured Friday. McNeil tried to complete a first-inning double play, but his wayward throw pulled Alonso off the bag.
So deGrom calmly struck out Realmuto to finish off the first frame. When he is right, the Mets barely need a defense or an offense.