Yesterday, I drew some flak from fellow Met fans for picking the Dodgers to win the series. I did so on the basis of L.A.'s seemingly unbeatable combination of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. I failed to consider two things: 1) Jacob deGrom might outpitch Kershaw, and 2) the Dodger manager is Don Mattingly.
Matt Harvey (Dark Knight) and Noah Syndergaard (Thor) have superhero nicknames. deGrom has a promotional garden gnome that was given out in a game that Squawker Lisa and I attended in May. But while deGrom has an unassuming public persona compared to Syndergaard and especially Harvey, he has quietly continued to blow away expectations - and on the biggest stages.
deGrom made his major-league debut during the 2014 Subway Series. Rafael Montero had made his major-league debut against the Yankees the night before. Montero was considered the main prospect at the time, while deGrom was pretty much a fill-in. deGrom pitched seven innings of one-run ball in his debut and ended up being NL Rookie of the Year.
When deGrom made the All-Star team this year, he struck out the side on ten pitches.
So when deGrom struck out six in the first two innings, it should have been no surprise. But 13 strikeouts and no runs? Only four other pitchers have ever done that in their postseason debut.
The box score will show that Kershaw was charged with three earned runs in yet another postseason loss. But Kershaw was blowing away the Mets for most of the game. In fact, it was the first postseason game ever in which both starters had at least 11 strikeouts. If not for the Daniel Murphy home run, it would have been a scoreless tie in the seventh when Kershaw walked the bases loaded, bringing David Wright to the plate with two outs and putting Mattingly on the spot.
It was deja vu all over again. In last year's NLDS Game 1, Kershaw was also great through six innings, before faltering in the seventh. Mattingly did not take him out until after the Cardinals had gotten six hits and five runs.
Mattingly may have been too slow with his hook last year, but he was too quick last night, pulling Kershaw for Pedro Baez, who gave up a two-run single to Wright that turned out to be the margin of victory.
Mattingly learned the wrong lesson from 2014. Maybe Kershaw was tiring, but he had not given up a bunch of hits. He had not given up any hits in the seventh, just walks. In fact, he had not given up a hit to a righthanded hitter all night. Sure, Wright might have gotten the same hit off of Kershaw, but it's more likely that the worst-case scenario would have been another walk, which would have been bad for the Dodgers but not as bad as a two-run single. And then nobody would argue with taking Kershaw out.
While Kershaw left after 113 pitches, Terry Collins let deGrom hit for himself in the seventh when he bunted and kept deGrom in for 121 pitches and seven innings. When Tyler Clippard stumbled in the eighth, it only showed how right Collins was to get seven innings out of the dominant deGrom.
Yes, Mattingly had a tough choice. But he's choosing between the best pitcher on the planet and Pedro Baez, who just happens to be the same pitcher Mattingly used to relieve Kershaw in last year's NLDS Game 1. And how did Baez do last year? He walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a home run to the second. The Dodgers lost the game by one run. So Mattingly goes to this guy in the same spot this year? Dummy Baseball.
There's been a lot of talk about how David Wright has waited nine long years to get back to the postseason, and he was certainly one of the heroes last night, but Daniel Murphy is in his eighth season as a Met and had never even been to the postseason until last night, when all he did in his debut was to homer off of Kershaw for the only run in the first six innings for either team.
If there's any doubt that the Mets have some magic going this season, the defensively-challenged Murphy was moved to first base as the Mets fortified their defense in the late innings and Murphy made a great play there in the ninth.
deGrom's unflappability and Murphy's intensity were not just a winning combination in Game 1, but in the postgame interviews as well, when deGrom pulled a prank on Murphy.