NEW YORK – The New York Mets find themselves on the verge of getting aced out.
Max Scherzer walked off the mound with a grim expression and to loud boos, stung by among the worst beatings of his career. Now Jacob deGrom starts against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night in Game 2, trying to extend a postseason run that could get extinguished less than 30 hours after it began.
“Baseball can take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and this is one of the lowest of lows,” Scherzer said after Friday night’s 7-1 Flushing flogging deflated a sellout crowd of 41,621 that had roared through introductions ahead of the Mets’ first playoff game in six years.
Owners of five Cy Young Awards, Scherzer and deGrom combine to earn $70 million, more than four entire big league teams. Mets fans, belief boosted by owner Steven Cohen’s billions, had visions of the team’s first title in 36 years: Pete Alonso highlighted the goal by wearing a warmup jacket with World Series logos from 1969 and 1986 on his right sleeve, the years of the Mets' only titles.
Now the season comes down to deGrom on Saturday night against Blake Snell, himself a Cy Young winner with Tampa Bay in 2018.
“I missed half of the year,” deGrom said. “The other starters did a great job holding it down.”
New York never expected its season to come down to this. The Mets opened a 10 1/2-game NL East lead even without deGrom, sidelined by a series of ailments for nearly 13 months. He returned on Aug. 2 and sparkled to a 5-1 record with a 1.66 ERA in his first seven starts.
A charmed season, so it seemed.
And then it curdled.
The Mets failed to win their division after leading all but six days over six months, and a 101-61 record resulted in a second-place finish behind the Braves on a tiebreaker after getting swept in a three-game series last weekend in Atlanta. DeGrom and Scherzer lost on consecutive days, and deGrom is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in his last four outings.
“It’s reality,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re getting an opportunity now, and we’ll get one tomorrow to right the ship.”
DeGrom left his last start with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. He insisted it had healed sufficiently, allowing him to throw bullpen sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.
“The dead skin’s all peeled away,” he said.
While deGrom voiced optimism, Scherzer was consumed by disappointment. He given a $130 million, three-year contract last year, the highest average salary in baseball history, partly for his postseason grit in 2019, when he went 3-0 to help Washington to its first title. The biggest prize of Cohen’s spending splurge, Scherzer joined deGrom, a fan favorite expected to opt out of his $137.5 million deal’s fifth and final season in pursuit of even greater riches,
Scherzer was limited to 23 starts by midsection muscle injuries, going 11-5 with a 2.29 ERA when healthy and combining with deGrom for just 34 starts — roughly the output of one healthy starter.
With the Mets consigned to the new best-of-three wild-card series, Scherzer was nothing of his normal self.
His fastball velocity was down 2 mph. His slider averaged 2,196 revolutions per minute, down from 2,303 during the season. Instead of spinning over the corners, his pitches soared over walls.
“I wasn’t able to command that fastball the way I usually can. That’s my bread and butter to be able to set up everything else,” he said. “When my fastball’s flat and then running, that’s usually when I get hit a lot. Obviously tonight I got hit a lot.”
Scherzer tied his career-high by allowing four home runs: a two-run drive by Josh Bell in the first, a solo shot by Trent Grisham in the second, a spirit-sucking three-run homer by Jurickson Profar off the right-field foul screen in the fifth and a solo homer by Manny Machado that built a 7-0 lead and ended the 38-year-old right-hander’s night. Showalter was nearly to the foul line before Machado crossed the plate.
Mad Max reached the dugout, dropped his glove on the bench and walked straight to the clubhouse without saying a word.
DeGrom made four postseason starts in 2015, all on the road, including a Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series finale. He missed the 2016 wild-card loss to San Francisco following elbow surgery that September.
“I love pitching here,” he said. “Fans have been great to me. I’m excited to go out there and see what I can do.”
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