LOS ANGELES -- A.J. Ellis had seen Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom strike out four of the first six Dodgers he faced Friday, all of them flailing to catch up to deGrom's autobahn fastball, and as Ellis approached the plate for his first at-bat, he offered some gallows humor to his counterpart, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
"This is fun," Ellis said. "First game in a week and I get to face the best pitcher in baseball."
On this night, the fourth day of the postseason, that title unquestionably belonged to deGrom even as he dueled multiple-Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who acknowledged flatly after the game that he had been outpitched. Of the 27 batters the Dodgers sent to the plate, 13 struck out in a manner not commonly seen this time of year: They appeared utterly helpless in a 3-1 loss.
You have to know that beneath deGrom's long hair and Ichabod Crane-like gait is a politely understated and cheerful person; he really wasn't bragging when he answered Michael Cuddyer's question in the dugout Friday night about what pitch had worked for him on the mound.
Everything, deGrom replied. "I could throw anything at any time," he said.
But it started with that overpowering fastball. As some clubhouse attendants break in a new catcher's mitt, they will smash the pocket with a mallet to soften the leather, and that's what deGrom's fastball sounded like on the field microphones Friday night, a 98 mph sledgehammer, one after another, crashing into d'Arnaud's mitt. DeGrom threw 75 fastballs Friday and according to ESPN Stats & Information, only two traveled at under 95 mph -- a couple of seventh-inning stragglers at 94.7 mph and 94.9 mph.