On June 6, 1968, St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson shut out the Houston Astros on three hits. On June 5, 2021, New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom threw seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win over the San Diego Padres.
The connection? Ask us again in a couple of months just how relevant it is, but the way deGrom has been dealing lately, expect him and Gibson to be linked with each other again and again over the summer to come. Not that deGrom is thinking about any of that.
“I try not to think about [the ERA],” deGrom said. “I try to go out there and put us in position to win.”
When prodded to think about the ERA, deGrom said, “I’m still not going to think about it.”
Fine. It’s up to us.
After two straight outings under a pitch limitation spurred by an injured list stay for muscular issues in his side and back, deGrom was unleashed on Saturday night. The possible storylines entering the game were tasty: deGrom versus fellow National League MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr.; deGrom versus breakout Padres starter Joe Musgrove. But it didn’t take long for deGrom to establish himself as the one and only suitable headline from a game that ended well after midnight on the East Coast.
DeGrom was in command throughout. He rolled through the first inning on nine pitches. The first eight were fastballs that averaged over 99 mph. The ninth was a slider — a 93 mph slider — that Jake Cronenworth had no chance at.
The Padres threatened deGrom in the second thanks to a first-pitch opposite-field double off the bat of Tatis, who dove across the plate to poke a 100 mph offering up the right-field line to start the inning.
Tatis was stranded on third, as the inning ended when deGrom raced over to field a bouncer by Tucupita Marcano and kept right on going, stepping on first base himself to save first baseman Pete Alonso the trouble of fielding a toss. Tatis was 0-for-3 against deGrom so far in his career entering the game. He later drew a walk off deGrom, who has walked just eight batters in 58 innings this season.
The Padres loaded the bases on two singles and an error in the fourth, but deGrom whiffed Wil Myers and Marcano to extinguish the threat.
Those were the offensive highlights for San Diego against deGrom. The righty departed for pinch hitter Brandon Drury in the eighth after 85 pitches, which doesn’t sound like that many, but it’s his most since April 28. Still, deGrom doesn’t require many pitches to rack up the accolades. And believe it or not, despite the dazzling velocity readings throughout his outing, deGrom thought he was running out of gas near the end of it.
“I felt pretty good,” deGrom said. “I noticed there in the seventh I started to get a little tired, actually the sixth.”
DeGrom struck out 11 to record his 50th career game with double-digit strikeouts. He has now struck out 1,452 batters in his career. Two weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, deGrom passed Sid Fernandez for fourth on the Mets’ career strikeout list.
Really, though, it’s the zeros. The absolute inability of teams to score on deGrom this season, which is the precise reason he’s threatening the standard of Gibson, the late Hall of Famer who recorded a 1.12 ERA in 1968, the lowest mark of the live-ball era (since 1920).
DeGrom has not allowed more than one earned run during any of his nine starts this season, and with his seven shutout frames at San Diego on Saturday, he lowered his ERA for the season to 0.62 — a full half-run lower than the legendary figure Gibson recorded so long ago. It’s the lowest ERA ever for a pitcher through nine starts.
The main point to fixate on here is that a pitcher who entered a game with an ERA of 0.71, which was already spurring chatter about beating Gibson, actually managed to lower that number even more.
How hard is that to do? Consider that deGrom’s ERA stood at 0.31 after he threw a complete-game shutout against the Nationals on April 23. Next time out, he gave up one run in six innings at Boston — and his ERA rose to 0.51. He allowed one run in each of his two subsequent outings and his ERA rose to 0.68 and 0.80, respectively.
In other words, DeGrom is pitching at a level where the only way he can lower his ERA is to put up all zeros. Against the Padres, he looked like a pitcher capable of doing just that as long his stuff looks like it did at Petco Park on Saturday.
The tracking machinery that feeds Statcast said that deGrom averaged 100.4 mph on 44 four-seamers against the Padres. That’s not only his personal best in a game, but it’s tied for the fastest average heater for any starter during the pitch-tracking era.
DeGrom has 93 strikeouts, while allowing four earned runs this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that is the second-most strikeouts over a nine-game span, while allowing fewer than five earned runs since 1913. Only Chris Sale had more, doing so in 2018.
So you have a pitcher in deGrom who has an ERA that looks like a typo, and even as we know that Gibson’s hallowed 1.12 mark could be put out of reach with one or two bad innings during a season that still has months to go, you can’t help but dream. You can’t help it because deGrom was already largely anointed as baseball’s best pitcher entering the season and somehow seems to be getting better and better with each outing.
Gibson, 53 years ago minus one day, shut out the Astros. He then shut out in order the Braves, Reds, Cubs and Pirates. It was the start of perhaps the most amazing run of any pitcher in baseball history: Over 11 starts from June 6 to July 30, 1968, Gibson allowed three earned runs (for a 0.27 ERA), won all 11 decisions and completed every outing.
At the end of all that, Gibson’s ERA for the season stood at 0.96. It’s a different era with different expectations for pitchers and a very different league context. But Jacob deGrom is into June with a 0.62 ERA. Who is willing to set a ceiling on the expectations for what he’s going to do over the next two months?
Anyone? Didn’t think so. DeGrom and Gibson. The comparisons are only just beginning.