Ace says trials of 2016 season helped him make most of excellent stuff Sunday
By Evan Webeck
PHILADELPHIA -- Jacob deGrom, surrounded by a swath of reporters, smiled and said that he was well aware of who got the only hit off him in Sunday's 5-0 Mets win.
It was the opposing pitcher, Zach Eflin, who played spoiler in deGrom's quest for perfection. deGrom's lone mistake pitch was a two-seamer that ran back over the plate and landed on the center-field grass in the third inning. No-no, no more.
"Once he gets the hit, that thought's out of your mind," deGrom said. "Then you're going for the shutout."
That -- the shutout -- he did get. The 28-year-old righty retired every Phillies batter to step to the plate from that point until the eighth inning -- 13 batters in a row, the same number Bartolo Colon sent down to start Friday's game -- when he issued a free pass to Ryan Howard leading off the inning. But Howard was erased on a double play two batters later, and deGrom finished the game facing just one over the minimum.
The last time an opposing pitcher broke up a Mets' no-hit bid also came at the hands of a Phillies pitcher. A Cole Hamels single was the only hit R.A. Dickey allowed in a 1-0 shutout of the Phillies at Citi Field on August 13, 2010.
In the first one-hit shutout by a Mets pitcher since Dickey struck out 13 Orioles on June 18, 2012, manager Terry Collins saw the best velocity and command he's seen from deGrom this season.
"He and Matt [Harvey] and [Steven] Matz all came out of Spring Training not throwing as hard as everybody expects them to," Collins said. "Noah [Syndergaard] was the one guy who stepped up, and now Jake's starting to creep back. But it's all command with him. He's such a competitive guy with such a feel for pitching. He knows when he has to make a pitch, and he makes it."
Everything was working for deGrom on Sunday, but it wasn't the best stuff he's ever had. That came, he said, in his first start back from the disabled list against the Dodgers on Aug. 23, 2014. Los Angeles torched him for five runs. In the nearly two years since, deGrom has learned some important lessons.
On that late August day in Los Angeles, deGrom learned the role the mental aspect of the game plays. And through his turbulent first half of 2016, he learned how to improve his concentration, pitch selection and mental toughness when he didn't have his best stuff.
"I think maybe having to do that this year helped me when my stuff was better today," deGrom said.
His stuff across the board -- four-seam, sinker, slider, curve -- was on. After getting Odubel Herrera to fly out to lead off the game, deGrom got Peter Bourjos and Cody Asche swinging to end the first.
Mets catcher Rene Rivera knew at that point he was on the receiving end of something special.
"It was early in the game, the first inning," Rivera said. "His pitches had a lot of movement on them and I figured he was going to have a good day. … When you have a guy with four good pitches, you know everything's going to be great."
Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.