LOS ANGELES -- Nearly three hours after taking that third-inning stroll to the mound with the understanding that his young pitcher was flirting with disaster, a champagne-soaked Mets manager Terry Collins stood in the celebratory visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, singing the praises of Jacob deGrom, whose competitive spirit proved to be even more impressive than the dominance he had displayed just six days earlier.
"This tells you how good he is," Collins said. "He just keeps battling. If that didn't prove the makeup this guy has, I don't know what to tell you. He battled his [butt] off."
This was not even close to the same deGrom who had notched 13 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings of a Game 1 victory. But somewhere in the midst of overcoming all that he didn't have during Thursday night's 3-2 win in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the Mets right-hander showed the Dodgers and the rest of the baseball world that his heart is as strong as his powerful right arm.
"It seemed like he pitched out of trouble every inning," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "That's why we wanted him on the mound tonight. He can grind through it with the best of them. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff or his best command, he finds way. If you had told me after first two innings, he would give us six [innings] with two runs, I would have told you were crazy."
Yet there deGrom was at the end of the night fielding questions about how he had managed to allow just two runs during a six-inning effort that at times seemed destined to conclude within the first three innings. Nobody has questioned the stuff this 27-year-old pitcher has displayed since bursting on the scene last year, but when he takes the mound during the NL Championship Series against the Cubs, he will also be recognized for the perseverance he showed while pushing the Mets one step closer to the World Series.
"A night when you don't have your best stuff is a battle, and tonight was," deGrom said, while attempting to simultaneously answer questions and avoid the beer and champagne his teammates were hurling in his direction.
While grueling through a 27-pitch first inning that was marred by four consecutive one-out singles, deGrom surrendered a pair of runs and the early lead his offense had produced against Zack Greinke. The challenge faced during an 18-pitch second inning was enhanced by a leadoff walk and a Wilmer Flores error.
deGrom closed both of the threats he faced during the second inning with consecutive strikeouts. Still, there was concern yet again when Justin Turner's leadoff double and another walk put runners at the corners with one outs. This prompted the visit from Collins, who understood the magnitude of the moment and the fact that there might not be a tomorrow when he simply told his pitcher "get a double play."
Three pitches later, Kiké Hernandez chopped a curveball back to deGrom who threw to second base to begin a double play and altered the complexion of his outing. Beginning with Hernandez's plate appearance, deGrom retired 10 of the final 12 batters he faced. In the process, he bridged the gap to Noah Syndergaard, who worked a scoreless seventh before seeing Jeurys Familia complete the final two innings in perfect fashion.
"I was hoping [deGrom] was going to give us three [innings]," Collins said in reference to the game's early progression. "I had Syndergaard ready. You knew if you fell too far behind, you had no chance."
Fortunately for the Mets, deGrom refused to allow the early struggles to blossom out of control. Instead, he gave the baseball world a sense of what Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen says he has known for a long time.
"We knew what kind of guy we had out there," Warthen said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.