The Mets’ Arson Squad Strikes Again

In a divorce case, one spouse ruled liable to pay support to the other can be returned to court and punished considerably for failure to pay such support. Baseball pitchers has no such recourse against his bullpens.

Jacob deGrom, the Mets right-hander who just might be the National League's best pitcher this season, would have grounds to get his bullpen behind bars for non-support so far.

At this writing, deGrom leads the National League with a staggering enough 1.52 earned run average (the only man in baseball lower: Justin Verlander) and a 248 ERA+, the measure taken after adjustments are made to the parks in which he pitches. He also leads the league, if not baseball, with — wait for it! — 0.4 home runs surrendered per 9 innings. And, his fielding-independent pitching rate, essentially his earned run average where balls are not put into play, is 2.12.

Did we mention opposing hitters are only batting .200 against him?

In other words, deGrom — who overcame a temporarily hyperextended elbow that scared the living hell out of the Mets and about seven-eights of New York earlier this season — is in the same position as would be the single most beautiful girl on earth whose husband turns out to be the abusive son of a bitch, worthy of divorce, but requiring frequent return dates to court and maybe a few nights in the clink to pony up the mandated support.

Except that deGrom can't sue the Mets' bullpen. For any reason, never mind non-support. Baseball, unfortunately, doesn't work that way.

So a typical deGrom start this season goes like this: He pins the ears (and every other body extremity) back on enemy batters, who would probably rather be caught robbing the first, last, or both national banks, for six or seven innings worth of splendid pitching. He might get an eighth depending on his pitch count. Then, satisfied with another splendid day's or night's work, deGrom has to sit helplessly and watch his own bullpen torch the joint.

In 2018 thus far, including Memorial Day against the Braves, deGrom has surrendered more than a single earned run only twice in 11 starts. Only once has he failed to strike out as many or more batters as innings pitched. Three times he's hit double digit strikeouts; only thrice has any batter taken him into the seats. He strikes out 11 batters per nine innings on average; he strikes out almost 5 batters for every one he walks, and he's surrendered only nineteen walks so far.

This is territory inhabited customarily by the like of such men as Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, and the late Roy Halladay. They should be talking not about whether deGrom is in the Cy Young Award conversation but how far other pitchers in the league have to catch up to him. If only deGrom didn't also have a non-support case against his own hitters: if he gets two runs to work with, he might as well pop a champagne cork to celebrate.

The further bad news is that deGrom has had three starts in which he handed the game off to the bullpen with a lead after seven innings' work and the Mets have gone on to lose. If you measure by games in which he pitched well enough to win, deGrom should have a 10-0 won-lost record instead of the 4-0 he now has.

On Memorial Day, it was what's become a textbook deGrom game. He shut the Braves out until the delayed seventh inning, then surrendered a leadoff home run to Tyler Flowers and a followup walk to Preston Tucker (The Man and His Dream). Out came manager Mickey Callaway. DeGrom was about as thrilled to see him as a herring is to see a barracuda.

Somehow, Callaway was convinced to let his man finish the inning. And that's exactly what deGrom did. He struck Darby Swanson out; he lured pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki into a pop out; he drew Ender Incarte into the inning ender, a soft grounder. At 115 pitches, deGrom's day was done.

In came Seth Lugo, a converted starter who'd actually been spotless out of the bullpen, one of the very few Mets bulls who didn't seem to think you quell a fire with gasoline, to start the eighth. The Braves put runners on the corners against him with nobody out to open, thanks to Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman singling back-to-back, then cashed in Albies with Nick Markakis's sacrifice fly to right, tying the game at two.

Then Devin Mesoraco, the import from the Reds in the Matt Harvey trade, did deGrom, Lugo, and every Met in uniform a big favor when he opened the top of the ninth by hitting a hanging 2-1 changeup from Braves reliever Shane Carle over the left field fence to bust the tie. One out later, Amed Rosario singled up the pipe, but the Mets couldn't move him around the bases or move anyone onto base behind him if they'd hired the Seven Santini Brothers.

And, one out after Lugo opened the bottom of the ninth by walking Camargo on a 3-1 count, Charlie Culberson — last year a Dodgers postseason hero, on Monday pinch hitting for Carle — hit a 1-2 slider over the center field fence.

Callaway, who looked mostly brilliant during the Mets' season-opening 11-1 run but has since looked something like the brilliant scientist whose experiments still keep blowing up while he juggles weak ingredients and weaker conduits, could only say of deGrom, "He can't control what happens after he comes out of the game. All he can do is continue doing what he is doing."

Like that abused beautiful wife who buys it every time her husband swears he'll never, ever, ever, ever! do that again?

That was game one of a holiday doubleheader. The Mets managed to win the second game, 8-5, despite a three-hour rain delay. The bullpen even managed not to torch the joint after rookie starter P.J. Conlon, recalled from Las Vegas to make the nightcap start, surrendered a second-inning solo homer (Suzuki) and a 2-run single (Freeman) in the third, before his relief Hansel Robles surrendered only a sacrifice fly (Suzuki), also in the third.

Another converted starter, Robert Gsellman, who's also been more than decent out of the pen this year, surrendered a run on an infield hit but otherwise bagged the win as four Met relievers otherwise kept the Braves scoreless for five innings' worth and Jeurys Familia, the Mets' closer, tossed a two-inning shutout save to end it.

The doubleheader split left the Mets at .500 and the Braves half a game ahead of the Nationals at the top of the National League East heap. Come Tuesday, it was Steven Matz handed grounds for non-support. He had to leave with a lead after three against the Braves thanks to a finger injury. The Mets even found a way to make the game 6-3 after he left. Then came the Arson Squad. Allowing Familia's two innings the night before and that Gsellman would have worked a third straight day, the Met bullpen bulls allowed the Braves to tie and then win on yet another walk-off.

Speaking as Matz was forced to leave, but in terms that could have applied to the entire game, Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez lamented, "I'm at a loss for words — and I'm paid to talk." Going to the Mets bullpen for relief these days is like giving someone with chronic diarrhea a cupcake iced with Ex-Lax.

When the Mets have the league's best pitcher this season and they continue thanking him for the great work with arson, you can't blame deGrom if he should lose his cool now and then. Which, thus far, he hasn't.

He'll just go out for his next start, against the Cubs come Saturday, and do what he's done so far, most likely. He'll deliver another lights-out start, leaving assorted Cubs frustrated no matter whether or if they pry even a single run out of him.

Then, with another excellent day's work in the bank, he'll retreat to the dugout. Praying hard that his bullpen doesn't drive him yet another step closer to Jacob's ladder.

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