Jacob DeGrom’s 15 strikeouts, 2-hitter lead Mets over Nationals

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NEW YORK — Jacob deGrom felt good in the bullpen.

“That made me a little nervous,” he said. “Some of my best starts I’ve barely thrown strikes down there.”

Nothing to be skittish about. He simply pitched the finest game of his eight-year big league career.

DeGrom struck out a career-high 15, threw a two-hitter and boosted the sagging Mets’ offense with a go-ahead double from the No. 8 spot in the batting order, powering New York over the Washington Nationals 6-0 Friday night.

“You’re going to be replaying that game at the end of 2021 in one of those greatest games of 2021,” said Brandon Nimmo, who hit his first home run of the season and had four RBIs. “He has to be from a different planet because he just does things that seem out of this world.”

DeGrom has 43 strikeouts in his last three outings and 50 this season, breaking the major league record for most in a pitcher’s first four starts set just last weekend by Cleveland ace Shane Bieber with 48.

Perennially plagued by a lack of run support, just like Mets star Tom Seaver decades earlier, deGrom lowered his career ERA to 2.55 and overtook Seaver’s 2.57 for New York’s franchise lead.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner walked none and retired the final 19 batters of his second shutout and fourth complete game in 187 starts, just the 16th time since 1901 that a pitcher had 15 or more strikeouts and no walks in a shutout. Starlin Castro singled in the second and Andrew Stevenson doubled in the third.

DeGrom also made the final putout, leaping on first base to catch Pete Alonso‘s toss on Josh Harrison‘s grounder.

DeGrom smiled and blushed when told Mets catcher James McCann had told the team’s SNY network: “He doesn’t just want to beat you, he wants to take your heart and soul in the process.”

“It’s part of competing,” deGrom said.

New York stopped a three-game slide after getting to Citi Field at 4:15 a.m. after a Thursday night game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field – deGrom flew home Thursday before his teammates,

He was coming off consecutive 14-strikeout games against Miami and Colorado, and New York gave him a fifth day of rest. DeGrom (2-1) reached double-digit strikeouts for the third time this season and 49th overall. He joined Boston’s Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Houston’s Gerrit Cole in 2019 as the only pitchers to strike out 14 in three straight appearances.

Taking the mound to Lynard Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” deGrom was anything but.

He topped out at 101 mph and reached 100 mph on 10 pitches, five in the first inning. Since the start of the 2020 season, deGrom has reached triple figures on 33 first-inning pitches; Miami’s Sixto Sanchez is a distant second with eight, according to MLB Statcast.

“It’s pretty unreal,” said Kyle Schwarber, who struck out twice.

DeGrom threw 84 of 109 pitches for strikes, mixing 56 fastballs with 46 sliders at about 92 mph and seven changeups of 91-92 mph. He got seven strikeouts on sliders, and four on each of his other two pitches.

“It was one of those days where he was on,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said,

DeGrom struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and dropped his season ERA to 0.31 with one earned run allowed. The pandemic-limited crowd of 8,130 repeatedly chanted “M-V-P!”

He knew his previous strikeout high was 14.

“When I looked up there and I saw 12, I was like, OK, you’ve got to figure out a way to strike out three guys,” deGrom said.

Erick Fedde (1-2) allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. He hit J.D. Davis on the back of his left leg with a one-out pitch in the fifth. Jeff McNeil worked a nine-pitch walk and deGrom lined a belt-high sinker to the opposite field into left, giving him a five-game hitting streak dating to 2019.

DeGrom singled in the eighth and is 6 for 11 (.545) at the plate this season – his 72 career hits match his wins total.

“I get paid to hit the ball and this guy, he gets paid to throw the ball and he hits it better than all of us,” Nimmo said with overstatement.

Back in the lineup after missing two starts with a sore right hip, Nimmo ended an 0-for-8 slide by grounding a two-run single past first baseman Josh Bell for a 3-0 lead in the fifth and added a two-run homer in the eighth off Kyle McGowin. Dominic Smith had an RBI single off Austin Voth in the seventh.

Long after the final out, Nimmo was marveling about deGrom.

“He single-handedly won and changed the game,” Nimmo said.

GOING DOWN

With two off days next week, the Mets optioned No. 5 starter Joey Lucchesi to their alternate training site and recalled LHP Stephen Tarpley.

ROTATIONS

Washington RHP Max Scherzer will start Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida, as the Nationals temporarily go with a four-man rotation.

GETTING EMOTIONAL

Martinez choked up and fought back tears near the end of what had been a routine pregame availability.

“I want to just go out there and honestly just give my condolences to all the people that lost family members and friends throughout this pandemic,” he said, putting a hand over his heart. “I went down – I’m riding the bus and I saw a big cemetery that had family, and to see all those stones is something else.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: LHP Jon Lester (recovering from COVID-19) is scheduled to throw six innings and up to 90 pitches in a simulated game Sunday, and the Nationals will decide Monday whether he is ready to be activated for his Washington debut.

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (elbow soreness) is scheduled for a rehab outing Saturday at Port St. Lucie, Florida. … RHP Seth Lugo (elbow surgery Feb. 16) has thrown off a mound but has not faced hitters. He is expected back next month.

UP NEXT

RHP Marcus Stroman (3-0, 0.90 ERA) starts for the Mets on Saturday, and RHP Joe Ross (1-1, 5.87) for the Nationals.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.