I see a lot of Top 5 and Top 10 lists these days, but those always feel rather limiting to me. I like something more comprehensive.
So I’m listing the best pitching performances in Mets history. And this list numbers … a lot.
Trying to rank these is impossible. The point here isn’t where Steve Trachsel or Pete Schourek’s one-hitter ranks in comparison to something from Matt Harvey or Johan Santana in Mets history. It’s simply that when you tell the story of the franchise’s history, these games belong on a list of the best they’ve ever had.
With that in mind, a few caveats:
* I’m going to do this in six articles, dividing the games up by decades. One decade list may be longer than another. We’re starting with the 2010s.
* Starting pitching dominates the list but relief appearances are included too. I call this “The Sid Fernandez Game 7 Rule.”
* I could have easily put 15 Tom Seaver starts, 10 Dwight Gooden starts, and 10 Jacob DeGrom starts on here. But in the interests of inclusivity, I chose to limit their presence at least a little bit. I wanted representation from the Grover Powell’s and the Tom Gorman’s too.
You’ll still get plenty of the Big 3 – they combine for 21 appearances, or more than 1/4 of the list.
* I’ve included strength of opponent stats to add a little extra context.
I welcome your praise, gripes, memories, and personal statements.
In the end, If you don’t like what I’ve done, make your own list 🙂
Thanks to the newspaper reporters who covered these games and captured the quotes and descriptions used throughout these pieces.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 6 K, 0 BB (Mets 3, Padres 0)
Opponent: 90-72, 12th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “He had no-hit stuff.” – catcher Rod Barajas
Summary: Jon Niese was born on October 27, 1986, which is tied for the happiest day in Mets history with October 16, 1969. We can mark this game as Niese’s happiest day, one in which he was one batter from perfection.
Only a third-inning double by Chris Denorfia prevented Niese from reaching a goal that had yet to be achieved by a Mets pitcher. He retired the last 21 hitters. It was the first nine-inning one-hitter by a Mets pitcher since Aaron Heilman’s gem against the Marlins in 2005.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7 K, 1 BB (Mets 1, Phillies 0)
Opponent: 97-65, 2nd among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They said it: “There’s definitely not any woulda, shoulda. There’s aw shucks,” – R.A. Dickey
Summary: The knuckleball has weird behavioral habits. One day you can be allowing 6 runs in 3 innings against the defending NL champs. Five days later, you can be pitching a 1-hitter against that same team.
This is another of the frustrating pre-Nohan near no-nos, with the only dink being a single by opposing pitcher Cole Hamels in the sixth inning. Admittedly this was a weaker Phillies lineup than normal with both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out. But the Phillies lineup did have two .300 hitters in it in Placido Polanco and Jayson Werth.
As was often the case for these Dickey starts, he had plenty left in the tank at the end of the game. One hundred and five pitches didn’t tire him out any.
“I could have pitched into the wee hours,” Dickey said.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 13 K, 0 BB (Mets 6, Braves 0)
Opponent: 89-73, 10th among 15 teams in NL in runs scored
They Said It: “He made us look like we had never seen a pitch before.” – Braves manager Fredi González
Summary: It’s hard to reconcile this start with anything else that happened in Chris Capuano’s Mets career. Remove it and his Mets ERA stands at 4.78 and his high for strikeouts is 9. Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman were a combined 0-for-6 with 3 strikeouts. Remove this game and their combined career batting average against the Mets is .900 (at least it feels that way).
This is the ultimate in “Bad Pitcher, Good Game” starts in Mets history, one in which Capuano dominated like he never had before. With Hurricane Irene bearing down on New York City and forcing the next 2 games to be postponed, Capuano made the Braves wish they’d never made the trip to Queens.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 8 K, 5 BB (Mets 8, Cardinals 0)
Opponent: 88-74, 2nd among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “I look back now and I’m glad he did it,” Terry Collins to Newsday in 2020.
Summary: I remember watching this game and really enjoying it. The outcome wasn’t in doubt, the buildup grew in intensity with every pitch. And the ending was highly satisfying.
I know that Terry Collins agonized for years about whether he wrecked Santana’s shoulder by letting him throw 134 pitches, but you can make a reasonable case that much more of the damage came from Santana averaging 229 regular season innings per year from 2004 to 2008. I’m glad it doesn’t bother Collins anymore.
Anyway, from a pitching perspective, Santana had very good stuff. He got nine outs with his changeup and seven with his slider. He got 10 outs from pitches that were outside the strike zone, including that last swing-and-miss at a changeup by David Freese. We can note that he had games in which he pitched better, but we’re certainly not quibbling with the results.
We can address that Carlos Beltrán’s line drive over the third base line should have been called fair.
To that, I say tough noogies.
It wasn’t. Life (and baseball) isn’t fair sometimes.
“The umpire made his call and that was the end of it,” Santana said.
We can also address the Mike Baxter catch, which was f’ing awesome. There are few things that would get me to almost swear in this recounting. That catch is one of them.
It’s a shame that Baxter never got the ‘welcome back’ treatment he deserved after making a collarbone-breaking catch on Yadier Molina in the seventh inning. I was there for his first game back at Citi Field. He got no applause. Unfortunate.
Santana got plenty of applause with a game that will always rank among the most memorable (non-postseason) in franchise history.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” Santana said.
One incidental note that I liked:
That was the second of consecutive complete games (shutouts actually) for Santana. In fact, Elias noted that he was the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter after a shutout since Dave Righetti for the Yankees against the Red Sox on July 4 1983.
Two weeks after Santana’s no-no, R.A Dickey threw his back-to-back one-hitters. No Met has thrown consecutive complete games since then. And I’m guessing it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Line: 9 IP, 1 R, 1 H, 12 K, 0 BB (Mets 9, Rays 1)
Opponent: 90-72, 11th among 15 AL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali (the Dali Museum is housed not far from Tropicana Field, the site of this game)
Summary: I’m a little biased when it comes to this game. It came 12 days after Johan Santana’s no-hitter and I was in the Trop for it. This is the best-pitched game by a Met that I’ve seen in person, better than Bobby Jones’ 1-hitter.
It could have been a no-hitter had David Wright made a clean barehand and thrown out Melvin Upton in the first inning, but alas it was too much to ask just a dozen days after Santana’s historic feat. Dickey’s scoreless streak also ended at 32 2/3 innings when the Rays scored an unearned run in the ninth inning.
A blogger I sat with said in the second inning that Dickey was going to finish with 12 strikeouts. He nailed it. Dickey brought his A+ knuckleball in this game and was nearly perfect.
“It was a game where I really didn’t have a regret.” – Dickey afterwards
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 13 K, 2 BB (Mets 5, Orioles 0)
Opponent: 93-69, 9th among 15 AL teams in runs scored
They Wrote It: “Dickey talked about the most important thing for him is consistency — being able to duplicate the sort of starts that have gone best for him. There is always something at which he thinks he can do better.” – I wrote this after his June 13 1-hitter vs the Rays.
Summary: MLB has only Johnny Vander Meer, but there’s also only one R.A. Dickey, and though Dickey didn’t match Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters, he still strung together one of the finest two-start stretches in MLB history. It was the first back-to-back one-hitters since Dave Stieb for the Blue Jays in 1988 (Stieb took two no-hit bids into the ninth).
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mets manager Terry Collins said
This is the one on the back end, the follow-up to the one-hitter against the Rays. Again, the knuckler was dancing at speeds ranging from 66 to 81 MPH. The only hit was a clean single by Wilson Betemit in the fifth inning.
That he did it against the Orioles was a fun coincidence, given that Orioles manager Buck Showalter was one of the people who coaxed Dickey into learning the knuckleball when the two of them were with the Rangers.
“He believed I could do it. It just took a while,” Dickey said to reporters afterwards.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 12 K, 0 BB (Mets 1, White Sox 0, 10 innings)
Opponent: 63-99, last in AL in runs scored
They Said It: “They shoved as much stuff as they could up there to make it stop.” – Matt Harvey on his bloody nose.
Summary: I’m writing this entry a few days after Matt Harvey signed a minor league deal with the Orioles. And after staring at Harvey’s stat line and 7.82 ERA the last 2 seasons, I ask myself, why would anyone want him?
But I suppose the memory of what Harvey once was still flickers and the hope is there that as long as Harvey can throw there is always the possibility that he can be something like his 2013 self, when he pitched to a 2.27 ERA.
In Harvey’s first 4 starts that season, opponents hit .108 and slugged .161. In his seventh start, he pitched an all-time gem, separated from a perfect-game bid by only Alex Rios’ infield single in the seventh inning. He did it while bothered early-on by a bloody nose. In the end, it was the White Sox who were left licking their wounds in a game that rivaled just about any one pitched by the likes of Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, and deGrom.
It’s the only start in Mets history in which a pitcher went at least nine scoreless innings, allowed one hit, struck out at least 12 and walked none.
Line: 7 1/3 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 12 K, 0 BB (Mets 3, Yankees 1)
Opponent: 85-77, 10th among 15 AL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “If he keeps throwing the ball like that, he’s going to have a really nice rest of the season and he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Catcher Anthony Recker.
Summary: I like this game for its efficiency (12 strikeouts on 88 pitches), its dominance (he retired 15 in a row to end his start), and how it shows that one game can turn an entire season around.
Remember that entering this game, Gee had made 10 starts and was 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA. Terry Collins told Gee that with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler’s recalls looming, he’d better start pitching well, lest he be replaced.
From this point on, Gee went 10-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 22 starts. He was a completely different pitcher going forward. His changeup neutralized the platoon disadvantage against lefties and his curveball was sharp. Recker’s comments turned out to be on the mark. In 2014, Gee was the Opening Day starter.
Line: 7 2/3 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 6 K, 3 BB (Mets 7, Reds 2)
Opponent: 64-98, 12th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “Who thought that Steven Matz’s first big moment for the Mets would come up at the plate?” – Ron Darling
Summary: I had said that I would keep hitting out of consideration for the top performances, but I can’t resist on this one. I’ll fully admit that Matz’s 3-for-3 with 4 RBI push this one over the top and onto our list. Grandpa Matz’s reaction didn’t hurt either.
Matz’s MLB debut got off to an inauspicious beginning, with Brandon Phillips hitting a leadoff home run against him. But that was more than offset by Matz’s two-run double in the second inning. After Todd Frazier’s game-tying home run for the Reds in the fourth inning, Matz got two more runs back with a two-run single in the sixth (all done sans batting gloves)that extended a 3-2 lead to 5-2.
Matz’s best moment on the mound came in the seventh inning when after allowing back-to-back singles, he rewarded Terry Collins for leaving him in by getting Eugenio Suárez to hit into a double play and striking out Jason Bourgeois. As radio announcer Josh Lewin said, that allowed Matz to walk off the mound “tall and proud.”
And worthy of making this list.
Line: 1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 3 K, 0 BB (AL 6, NL 3)
They Said It: “I hope I can be here again.” – Jacob deGrom
Summary: I don’t want to go all hyperbole and describe this as the most domninating inning pitched in Mets history, because I don’t have the historical recall to do it (few do) but boy-oh-boy is it tempting to do so.
And I know that striking out Stephen Vogt, Jason Kipnis, and José Iglesias on 10 pitches isn’t like going through Mays, McCovey and Cepeda, or more recently, Jones, Jones, and (insert name of third great Braves hitter) but I think the zip that deGrom had on his fastball in this game would have overmatched anyone. And to be fair, both Kipnis and Vogt entered ranked in the top 10 in the AL in on-base percentage.
“Let it be noted that I was the four-pitch at-bat,” Kipnis said, the closest thing to a point of pride that the three hitters could cling to.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 9 H, 2 K, 0 BB (Mets, 7, Marlins 0)
Opponent: 71-91, 14th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “An old person like me, I’ve got no limits.” – Bartolo Colon.
Summary: I know, I know. You want me to include the game against the Padres in which he homered. I’m not. I’m going with one start from Big Sexy and it’s his shutout.
Yes, it was a nine-hitter in a lopsided game with only two strikeouts, but 42-year-old Mets pitchers don’t throw shutouts every day. He’s the oldest Met to throw one, ahead of Tom Glavine (41) and Miguel Batista (40). It gave him a 25-inning scoreless streak that eventually stretched to 31 innings.
And they don’t do it with absurdly bonkers behind-the-back flips like the one Colon made on Justin Bour. Unless you’re 285-pound (so the New York Times said) Bartolo Colon.
“Don’t get fooled by the body,” said Mets manager Terry Collins.
Line: 7 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 13 K, 1 BB (Mets 3, Dodgers 1)
Opponent: 92-70, 8th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “There’s a lot of good seats out there but I had the best seat in the house.” – Travis d’Arnaud.
Summary: This was the start that raised the bar for every expectation that Mets fans had from deGrom.
Yes, he had pitched eight one-hit innings against the Cardinals earlier in the season and had four other starts of at least seven innings with only two hits allowed (including against the Dodgers). But the playoffs against the Dodgers and matched up with Clayton Kershaw – that was a different animal.
DeGrom’s first six outs were strikeouts. He netted 24 swings and misses, tied for second-most by a pitcher in a playoff game in a seven-season span. His fastball and changeup were both excellent (DeGrom cited the changeup as being sharp after the game).
The whiffs were hard-earned, as it took him 121 pitches to get through seven innings. But perseverance has been part of the deGromian nature since his MLB career began, so it’s not a surprise that he came out on top.
Line: 6 IP, 2 R, 6 H, 7 K, 3 BB (Mets 3, Dodgers 2)
Opponent: 92-70, 8th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “I really enjoyed that game.” – Jacob deGrom
Summary: This is among my favorite-pitched games, more for the ‘how-the-heck-did-he-do-that’ aspect than anything else. The enjoyment that Jacob deGrom had after the fact was matched by the stress of watching it in the moment. DeGrom allowed two runs by the time the fifth batter of the game had batted, but allowed nothing more.
He escaped jams of two on with one out in both the first and second innings with a pair of strikeouts. In the third, he started a double play that allowed him to escape a first-and-third jam. In the fourth he left a runner on third base. In the fifth he left one on second, ending each of those two frame with strikeouts. His only 1-2-3 inning was his last, the sixth.
To that point, deGrom had thrown 105 pitches, but it felt like he had thrown 1,000. He had done everything he could to keep the game within reach, allowing Daniel Murphy to work his Mets magic.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7 K, 1 BB (Mets 5, Phillies 0)
Opponent: 71-91, last in NL in runs scored
They Said It: “Well that wasn’t a lot of fun.” – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin
Summary: The Mets usually play things cautious when it comes to Jacob deGrom and complete games but given that he was pitching on 10 days rest and that he needed only 105 pitches to finish the Phillies, this was the perfect game to turn Jake loose.
And it was almost a perfect game, but for a Zach Eflin single that deGrom nearly fielded (he redeemed himself with a nice play on a Cody Asche bunt) and a Ryan Howard walk on a 3-2 pitch.
What shows you how much things have changed in 60 years of Mets baseball is this: This is the only shutout in the first 183 starts of deGrom’s career. He had to be Amazin’ and efficient to get a chance at one. And on this day, he was.
Line: 7 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 10 K, 3 BB (Giants 3, Mets 0)
Opponent: 87-75, 9th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “Baseball has a way of ripping your heart out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for spring training.” – Noah Syndergaard.
Summary: I went to this game with my father, who had just turned 70 and I warned him that we would be standing a lot, because there were going to be a lot of two-strike counts.
Noah Syndergaard didn’t disappoint. He went to two strikes on 18 of the 25 hitters he faced, striking out 10 of them. He also took a no-hitter to two outs in the sixth inning before Denard Span singled. That was an inning of good fortune for Syndergaard, who survived Brandon Belt’s long fly ball to center field because of a nice catch by Curtis Granderson.
Even with that, I’d say Syndergaard deserved better. The guy on the other team just happened to be Mr. Postseason – and Syndergaard’s teammates were no match for him.
Line: 8 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 10 K, 0 BB (Mets 3, Braves 0)
Opponent: 90-72, 5th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “That guy’s so good.” – Brian Snitker
Summary: Remember the hubbub over whether or not a pitcher could win a Cy Young with a sub-.500 record? Thankfully, Jacob deGrom made that a non-factor with a delicious final start of the season against the Braves.
This was another of what 20 years from now we’ll probably call vintage deGrom starts. He gave up a single in the first and second innings, but nothing more. deGrom lowered his year-end ERA to 1.70 and upped his win-loss record to 10-9. He punctuated it with back-to-back strikeouts to end his eighth and final inning. The last one – of Ozzie Albies – was the 1,000th strikeout of his career.
It was a good way to end his night and I think it’s a good way to end the first part this series. We’ll see if he and the Mets have plenty more good starts to come.