Max Scherzer’s presence takes pressure off Jacob deGrom to be Mets ace

The titular ace of the Mets’ rotation went to work on Wednesday.

So did Max Scherzer.

Two-hundred-and-sixty-four miles away from where Birthday Boy Max took the ball in Queens for the finale of the first installment of the Subway Series, Jacob deGrom was on the mound in Syracuse for the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate for what has been portrayed as his final rehab start.

And, wait for it (that’s what we’ve all been doing for more than a year), the plan is to have deGrom join Scherzer in the big-league rotation the next time around. There should be no issue waiting just a little bit longer after more than a calendar year of false starts.

Or, more accurately in Mets parlance, no starts at all since July 7, 2021.

There is no rush, though that’s easy for everyone else to say. But there is no rush when manager Buck Showalter can put the ball in Scherzer’s right hand every five days. No rush when you have a 38-year-old of that pedigree who spun seven innings of brilliance in this one.

“I love to pitch in these situations and in this atmosphere,” Scherzer said following the walk-off 3-2 victory on Starling Marte’s ninth-inning hit to sweep this set. “I want the ball. They’re a great team with a great lineup. I want to beat them.”

Mets
Max Scherzer
Jason Szenes

This was a microcosm of Scherzer’s big-game career. There were seven shutout innings of five-hit ball punctuated by three strikeouts of Aaron Judge, the final one a confrontation to remember. The Mets were up 2-0, there were two on and two out in the seventh when the major league’s leading home run colossus strode to the plate.

Scherzer got two quick strikes on sliders. The count went to 1-2. And then one more slider, one more swing and miss while a packed house erupted in a split screen of joy and agony. The Mighty Judge struck out on Scherzer’s final pitch.

No. 99.

Scherzer passed the baton to David Peterson to start the eighth. Two batters and five pitches later, the lead had evaporated on a Gleyber Torres home run. But the Mets dug in there. Seth Lugo took them to the finish line.

The jolt of having deGrom on the mound in a real live pennant race is incalculable. No; it really is. Because while everyone will be overjoyed when deGrom slips into his No. 48, it is all but impossible to project how much he will be of what he once was.

Is it realistic to expect deGrom to be the immediate ace of the rotation after this much time away? Is the right-hander to be graded on a curve, and if so, on which one?

Mets
Max Scherzer and the Mets celebrate after he struck out Aaron Judge to end the seventh inning.
Robert Sabo

Would it be The deGrom Curve — alternate meaning — under which he would be saddled with a failing grade by allowing two runs in seven innings while failing to reach double digits in strikeouts and triple digits on the radar gun? Or the one that would be applied to a 34-year-old coming off a year’s absence?

Is it fair to expect him to be deGrom? What’s next?

“I don’t know,” said Showalter, who had deGrom in Port St. Lucie this spring. “I got bits of it from the home dugout [at spring training] and I really got to see what everybody has been talking about.

“But I don’t know. When you’ve pitched at the level he has, I don’t know. I can’t sit here and say I do. We’re going to find out. I hope it’s going to be fun.”

But deGrom — potential free agency via an opt-out, aside — does not have to be a supernova. He does not have to be a savior. He does not have to be an ace. Not when Scherzer can comfortably slip into that cape. As he did against the Yankees.

Mets
Jacob deGrom
AP

Scherzer has pretty well done it all through a career that began in 2008 and features 196 major league victories. He has been a world champion with the 2019 Nationals. He has started 21 postseason games. Now he’s taken a large bite out of the Big Apple.

“I love a guy who’s 38 — officially today — and has done the things he’s done, still has the zest and love for competing in the best league in the world,” Showalter said of Scherzer, who has a 1.48 ERA over five starts since his July 5 return after being sidelined for six weeks with an oblique strain.

“Take a snapshot. There are not a lot like him who come around.”

The atmosphere in Queens was electric in the evening. It was not so in Syracuse earlier in the day. That’s all right. If all goes well, the twain shall meet as soon as next week.

Ace(s) high.

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