When Mets starter Jacob deGrom made his way to the mound at 12:10 p.m. on Thursday, his personal anthem — “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd — was cued up at Citi Field.
His opponents — the San Diego Padres — were well aware of what that song signaled, especially at that hour. DeGrom, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, began Thursday’s game with the best career daytime E.R.A. in the majors for more than a century — a 1.90 mark.
That number dropped on Thursday as the Mets won, 4-0.
DeGrom allowed just four hits and one walk over seven innings, while recording nine strikeouts. One of them ended the second inning when Padres catcher Francisco Mejia swung so hard at a 90-miles-per-hour slider that he fell down and his helmet fell off.
The Padres remained off balance as deGrom confounded them with a slider that broke late and away from hitters. He threw it 56 times, more than he had in any previous start in his career.
“His stuff is just straight-up nasty,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s a devastating weapon when he’s got it going on.”
DeGrom, who threw 105 pitches, finished the afternoon with his season E.R.A. at 2.86, the lowest it has been since April 9, when he began a difficult stretch of starts. Those struggles ended in mid-May, and deGrom, who received a five-year contract extension for $137.5 million this spring, resumed his role as the most dependable Met.
“He’s going to be here for a lot longer doing the same thing,” Callaway said. “He means the world to us. That’s why we wanted him here for as long as possible.”
Few other Mets can be confident of remaining in Queens for long. Though the team has won three of its four series since the All-Star break, the Mets are 47-55 and trail the Atlanta Braves, the National League East leaders, by 12½ games. They are also eight games out of the wild card and expected to be sellers at next week’s trade deadline.
Talk around the team has focused on potential deals involving pitchers like Zack Wheeler and positions players like Todd Frazier. Wheeler is bound to attract attention when he starts Friday after a stint on the injured list with shoulder fatigue, and Frazier rediscovered his form at the plate on Thursday.
After striking out three times while going 0 for 4 on Wednesday, Frazier reported to Citi Field at 7 a.m. Thursday. He worked in the batting cage and reviewed video of his batting approach, then doubled in two runs in the bottom of the first. He went 2 for 3 and drew two walks.
“I had to go back to the drawing board,” Frazier said. “I lost it there for a little bit, basically swinging at everything. When I’m swinging at good pitches, usually I’m going to hit the ball hard and good things are going to happen.”
For once, the Mets performed well with deGrom on the mound, both at bat and in relief. After Jeff McNeil hit for deGrom in the bottom of the seventh inning, reliever Seth Lugo struck out two in an inning that brought his E.R.A. down to 2.90.
“That’s been the formula for our wins lately,” Callaway said. “Our bullpen has come around. I have to give them credit. They’ve been dealing.”
But with deGrom looking on from the dugout, things got a bit complicated in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Edwin Diaz entered the game to face Manny Machado, who had singled off deGrom in the first. Machado worked the count full, then turned a 96 m.p.h. Diaz fastball into a line drive that traveled 100 m.p.h. right back at the pitcher.
Callaway said that the ball had glanced off the big toe of Diaz’s left foot and that he had received X-rays, which came back negative. Luis Avilan replaced Diaz, allowed one hit and preserved the lead.
“It was a little sore,” Callaway said of Diaz’s foot, “so we decided we didn’t want him to make any pitches where he had to brace his delivery with that foot.”
After the game, deGrom (6-7) said he had not known what to expect as he took the mound. He had been wild in the bullpen during warm-ups, but he settled in fine when the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd gave way to his first pitch.
“I had a good feel for the slider,” deGrom said. “I was able to move it around in the zone, up with it to the lefties.”
Barring a stunning trade, DeGrom will remain the constant for the Mets moving forward. He was asked if he could explain why players like Wheeler, who have been mentioned as trade bait, have announced that they want to stay with a team that has failed to live up to the win-now expectations of General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen.
“Good group of guys,” deGrom said, “and I think that while the season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, there is a good group of guys in here and we enjoy being around each other.”
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