By Jason Keidel
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I adore Steve Somers.
Mike Francesa may be the most famous sports radio host in history, but Somers may be the most beloved.
If you’ve ever worked odd hours, driven a vehicle long after rush hour, twisted the dial to WFAN, and listened to the radio bard spin his sports poetry, then you’re nodding or smiling right now. Steve Somers is an oasis in an otherwise dark and frigid winter night.
But “the Schmooze” has done what too many gleeful, faithful, and well-intentioned New Yorkers have done since Monday night — crowned the Mets before they’ve been fitted for the hardware. We’ve heard the solemn and sarcastic ballads about the Dodgers, and their allegedly overrated pitching staff, and about the game’s most beleaguered manager, Don Mattingly, baseball’s dead man walking.
Then the guy who has the Cy Young forwarded to his mailbox every winter, who has endured more criticism than perhaps any pitching Hercules in history, hushed the team and the town, and has hurled us all back to Chavez Ravine.
That’s the problem with premature parades. They rarely have the cinematic endings we’ve conjured. The Mets had the mojo, momentum, and series lead Tuesday night, but they ran into a corporeal road block with the best pitching arsenal in the sport. Clayton Kershaw happened.
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Can we stop calling Kershaw a choke artist? Can we refrain from the “Clayton Manning” moniker? Can we step back and, if not applaud, appreciate? For all the doomsday cliches about the Dodgers’ ace, he’s got a 1.89 ERA in the playoffs on three days’ rest.
If you didn’t know before, now you know. Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. It’s not a debate, discussion, or dialogue. Frankly, if I had to choose between the two pitching staffs, I’d take the Mets over a season. Sadly, this isn’t a season, but rather a series, where you’ll see Cy Young and Cy Junior (Zack Greinke) on short rest, but not short on talent.
But there’s a wide, silver lining that the Mets can ride into the NLCS. They know they can beat the Dodgers, and beat them in Los Angeles. And they have the pitcher who already beat them at Los Angeles.
For all the hype and hyperbole, all the flaming adjectives and social media branding and anointing of the Kershaw/Greinke duet, the Mets got some arms of their own. And if this series has done anything other than double as a stage for their two pitching savants, it has also cast a blinding light on an ace up the Mets’ sleeve.
Going into this series, if you had to guess who would have the most glittering performance of the entire MLB postseason, you would have reflexively reacted with Kershaw, Greinke, or the hottest pitcher in the history of Doubleday’s game, Jake Arrieta.
Yet it has been the Mets’ wafer-thin longhair who has demanded the spotlight and commanded the mound more than anyone. In his first playoff start, deGrom hurled seven effortless innings, surrendering zero runs, while fanning 13, with just one walk and a WHIP under 1.00.
And while we can debate the state of Matt Harvey until next year’s playoffs, Mets fans must be unanimous in their confidence and support for deGrom. Harvey may be the more famous pitcher, but deGrom is the more effective pitcher. And unlike Harvey, who has more restrictions than American Pharoah before the Belmont, deGrom can just air it out Thursday night.
The Mets have a chance to go from an ephemeral, feel-good story to authentic contenders, from one-hit wonders to a full-blown, platinum album. If they can conquer the Dodgers in Game 5, behind deGrom’s arm and a freckling of well-timed hits, then they will have the confidence and the pitching calculus to beat anyone.
They say a series doesn’t start until one team wins on the road. By that metric, this series started in earnest in Los Angeles. And now it will end in Los Angeles. It’s time for deGrom to be deGreat. Again.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel