By Matt Ehalt
The 40,133 fans who packed Citi Field on May 15, 2014, had no idea the Mets’ debuting pitcher that night would eventually be on course to be remembered as one of the best players in franchise history.
And it’s not their fault.
Jacob deGrom wasn’t a top prospect. He wasn’t a top draft pick. He didn’t come from a collegiate baseball powerhouse. Heck, he wasn’t even the top rookie pitcher called up for that series against the Yankees, with most of the buzz surrounding the previous day’s starter, Rafael Montero.
All deGrom has done since then is establish himself as arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He’s won back-to-back Cy Youngs. He’s made three All-Star teams. He took home the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014. And it’s possible he will be enshrined alongside Tom Seaver in Cooperstown someday.
In many ways, deGrom’s rise to the premier pitcher in baseball mirrors his quiet personality. He’s not the splashy type. He just goes out to the mound, accumulates strikeouts and simply dominates. He leads by example.
DeGrom, a Florida native, began his college career as a shortstop at Stetson before eventually transitioning to pitching, a move that, safe to say, has paid off for the 32-year-old. The Mets drafted him in the ninth round of the 2010 draft and he underwent Tommy John surgery later that year.
It became clear early during that 2014 season the Mets had a special talent on their hands, with deGrom posting a 2.69 ERA while winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The next season, he helped the Mets reach their first World Series in 15 years by winning each of his first three postseason starts.
DeGrom’s performance in the 2015 NLDS is the stuff of legends, with the righty defeating both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to lift the Mets past the Dodgers. His Game 5 performance is one the gutsiest in playoff history with deGrom somehow pushing through six innings of two-run ball despite the Dodgers constantly threatening against him. Then-manager Terry Collins nearly lifted him early in the game, but deGrom somehow found a way to leave with a 3-2 lead that ultimately held.
While deGrom was considered a top pitcher in the league spanning his first four seasons, he took his talents to a new level in 2018 and firmly put himself in the “best pitcher on the planet" conversation.
His 2018 campaign is one of the greatest in MLB history. DeGrom won the first of his two Cy Youngs by posting an MLB-best 1.70 ERA while also setting records for most consecutive quality starts and most consecutive starts allowing no more than three earned runs. He followed that campaign with another Cy Young Award in 2019 when he posted a 2.43 ERA while leading the NL with 255 strikeouts. If not for the shortened season in 2020, deGrom may have won his third straight Cy Young.
Not bad for a pitcher who wasn’t even the main prospect called up at the time of his debut.