Saturday, October 10, 2015

Smoke vs. Fire

I hadn't had much to say in the week or so leading up to, finally, the start of the Mets participation in the 2015 Postseason, primarily because I just didn't feel like there was much that needed to be said. On the surface, the Mets' objective was pretty clear: Try to steal a game against one of the Dodgers two Aces in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles and basically try to take it from there.

What was getting kind of overlooked amid the hype surrounding Clayton Kershaw's smoke is that the Mets have the pitchers that can hang with them. These are all guys who've been sort of flying under the radar when it comes to the consciousness of MLB outside of New York, but it's not as though the Mets were going to go in to Los Angeles and get their doors blown off. These were going to be really tight ballgames.

I had, in the 9 years intervening between the previous Mets playoff game and Friday night, forgotten just quite how much everything becomes magnified in the Playoffs. Just sitting and watching a game can't be done because it seems like everything could change on one pitch, and even in a Game 1 situation when you know that one loss isn't going to kill you—yet—I was still biting my nails and tapping my feet before the first pitch was even thrown. It didn't help that the game was scheduled for the rather asinine start time of 9:45pm in New York, making it a scene reminiscent of the 1999 NLDS, when the Mets had to play games 1 and 2 in Arizona at 11:00pm. Of course, I was in College then and didn't care so much about staying up until 2am, but now that I'm older, well, I get cranky. And antsy.

But then the game finally began and as expected, Clayton Kershaw pitched like he usually pitches, which is to say that the Mets weren't able to do much off him. But any idea that he would just cruise home to an easy victory was thrown out the window by his opponent for the good guys, Jacob deGrom. The easy choice for this Game 1 start, deGrom came out and let it fly, shooting 98mph fastballs all over the place and simply blowing Dodgers batters out of the box. Overamped? Sure. But probably not any more overamped than he might have been in the All Star Game, when he was throwing with similar flair. I'm still not sure where he hides that 98mph fastball, but he seems to have the ability to bring it out when he really needs it. But more than that, deGrom was the right guy to have out there because in this kind of a Game 1 situation, when you're trying to beat the other team's best guy in a hostile environment, you want a guy who can channel his emotions into his pitching, and deGrom seems to have the ability to do that more than most.

So, the expected pitching duel unfolds as expected, as between deGrom and Kershaw there were 12 strikeouts in the first 3 innings, with the requisite hits and walks sprinkled in sparsely. The Dodgers had a credible threat in the 2nd inning when Justin Turner hit a drive to left that clanked off of Michael Cuddyer's glove—€”and Cuddyer probably shouldn't have been in a game like this altogether, but that's another story for another time—and in the end deGrom was able to pitch around the trouble.

The Mets then broke through in the 4th when Daniel Murphy—because you figured it had to be Daniel Murphy—whacked a solo Home Run into the Mets bullpen. It had to be Daniel Murphy because of all the reasons it shouldn't have been Daniel Murphy, ranging from the lefty/lefty thing to the Daniel Murphy thing, but in the Postseason, things get wacky like that and Daniel Murphy hits a Home Run off of Clayton Kershaw. And it leads to Jacob deGrom ultimately outpitching Clayton Kershaw through those middle innings. The lead held through the 4th...5th...6th...and yeah, in the 1st game of the NLDS, I was counting outs, which means if this thing keeps on going I might pass out mid-game.

Finally, Kershaw tired in the 7th and walked 3 guys, Duda, Tejada and Granderson. The Mets had kind of been building up to that all night, because they made Kershaw work. For the number of times Mets hitters hacked at 1st pitches, there were ABs like Wright's 12-pitch walk in the 1st inning. They didn't help Kershaw and finally he was done and left a bases-loaded, 2 out spot for Pedro Baez in the 7th. I might have left Kershaw in to get out of this; even tired Kershaw is probably better than the alternative, but Mattingly felt differently and the result was that David Wright broke his Postseason Ice with a 2-run single that turned a 1-0 game into a 3-0 game and really took the pressure off of everyone. This was the sort of moment Wright had been waiting for for 9 years and dammit, he delivered when the team needed him to. That was crucial because it meant deGrom could go back out for the 7th, even over 100 pitches, and just let it fly. Where Kershaw looked spent in the 7th, deGrom was still free and easy and finished his night by blowing Joc Pederson and Chase Utley's carcass out of the box.

Still, there were 6 more outs to sweat through and Tyler Clippard made everyone sweat by allowing a double to Howie Kendrick and a run-scoring hit to Adrian Gonzalez, but as soon as there was trouble brewing, Collins had Jeurys Familia up and as soon as Gonzalez got that hit—and you knew that was coming—Familia was in the game. This is no time to screw around and Familia had been nailing down 4-out saves all season, specifically to be built up for moments like this. And yes, everyone had a heart attack when his first batter, Justin Turner, scalded a line drive to the right side, but Daniel Murphy, who seems to like this Postseason thing, picked it off to end the inning. In the 9th, Familia had a pretty easy time of it and the Mets won the 1st game of this NLDS, 3-1.

I already mentioned that the Mets had to accomplish one thing if they were going to win this series, and now they've done that, and done so impressively. In a game absolutely owned by the pitchers—the two teams combined for 27 strikeouts—the Mets came out on top. Kershaw allowed 4 hits and struck out 11, but deGrom topped him, scattering 5 hits over his 7 shutout innings and striking out 13. 13! In his Postseason Debut! And the Mets have won that road game that they needed to take, so now, they can come back tonight and just let it roll. The Dodgers, on the other hand, may well be shitting their collective pants. True, they'll have their other Ace, Zack Greinke on the mound tonight, but the Mets counter with Noah Syndergaard.

Following the game, after deGrom was interviewed on the field by TBS, whose only upside is that they have Ron Darling as their analyst, their marblemouthed play-by-play guy Ernie Johnson said something about "Jason deGrom." Seriously? My man just lit the Dodgers on fire, outdueled Clayton Kershaw and won his first Playoff game, and you can't even remember his name? I think the Mets just might have to keep this winning thing going just to make sure you're all paying attention.

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