Mets ace Jacob deGrom dominates Braves in long-awaited return to Citi Field

·4 min read

NEW YORK – Camera phones were taken out before the first pitch.

Decibel levels usually saved for late in the game were reached before the first inning.

The lovefest for Jacob deGrom started from the opening warmups when a boisterous home crowd and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" welcomed him back to the Citi Field mound. The cheers returned after each of his 12 strikeouts.

DeGrom took a perfect game into the sixth inning on Sunday in his second start of the season and the first in Queens in exactly 13 months. It was a vintage performance for the Mets' righty who missed a full calendar year with elbow and shoulder issues.

It topped off a glorious weekend for the Mets, who took four out of five games against the NL East-rival Braves with a 5-2 victory.

"Stepping out there was a little bit emotional," deGrom said. "I kind of took a second and took it all in and then tried to focus and try to take care of business."

For deGrom, the battle with fellow flamethrower Spencer Strider not only met expectations. It exceeded them.

DeGrom sent down the first 17 batters before walking Ehire Adrianza and getting chased from the game on Dansby Swanson's two-run home run into the bullpen in center.

For a day, the reigning World Series champions looked completely overpowered.

"It's probably sad that I'm not that surprised," outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. "He is unbelievably talented and unbelievably motivated. I think I've said this about him before: if you're playing tiddlywinks, he would want to beat you. He's extremely competitive. It fuels his desire to be the best."

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This weekend could not have gone much better for the Mets (70-39), who moved to a season-high 31 games over .500 – their highest total since finishing 32 games over in the 2006 season. The Mets outscored the Braves, 31-22, in this series and padded their lead in the NL East to 6.5 games. That leaves the Braves only seven more head-to-head matchups to close the gap.

"I feel like that we've definitely elevated our game and we want to continue to do that as the season progresses," Pete Alonso said. "We just want to keep continuing to pass the torch, pass the baton, and put together high-quality at-bats."

DeGrom came out firing by throwing eight straight fastballs to start the game, including seven that reached triple digits. The Braves fanned on his first 18 sliders, and their 90% whiff rate against that pitch was the highest versus any pitch in an outing during the pitch-tracking era (2008-present).

That devastating arsenal helped deGrom break the major league record for the most strikeouts through 200 career games, with 1,523. The Mets ace exited to a standing ovation after 76 pitches. DeGrom felt like he "still had more in the tank," but didn't plan to argue to stay in the game even if the no-hitter was still intact.

"I probably would have let them take me out," deGrom said. "After missing a whole year, you don't want to do anything dumb in the first two back."

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves.
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves.

The Mets gave deGrom an early lead by scoring four runs in the third inning. The top of the lineup started the rally with Nimmo beating out an infield single and Francisco Lindor reaching on a bloop single to left.

Alonso took advantage with a two-run double that kicked off the third base bag and into left field. The fortunate bounce helped Alonso collect his 94th and 95th RBI of the season to extend an NL lead.

"With Pete, I think sometimes we miss how good a hitter he is," manager Buck Showalter said. "That's why you're always looking for strength. It's his ability to fist a ball out over the infield on a pitch that most of us would be picking the splinters out of our hands."

Mark Canha drove in another two runs later in the inning with a double that split the gap in left center. Daniel Vogelbach motored around to score from first after a slight bobble from Braves outfielder Michael Harris II.

The Mets tacked on another run in the fifth when Jeff McNeil scampered home on Collin McHugh's wild pitch.

Joely Rodriguez tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief and Edwin Diaz struck out the side in the ninth in picking up the save.

"The Braves are a great team," Nimmo said. "And we just took four out of five against them. And I think that's something positive to build on. We believe in ourselves. We think that we're a good offense. We think that we wear pitchers down. We think that we have great pitching and a good bullpen and you know, I mean, we think we're a really good team. So I think this just emphasizes that."

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Jacob deGrom dominates as New York Mets take 4 of 5 vs. Atlanta Braves