Sound familiar? Dillon Gee has followed the near-identical script this season, minus the knuckleball.
Facing Jair Jurrjens, the reigning National League Pitcher of the Month, who had a 1.51 ERA through his first nine starts, Gee was every bit the ace's equal Saturday night at Citi Field.
Originally promoted when Chris Young landed on the disabled list for the first time, the 25-year-old Gee had made his season debut in Atlanta on April 17, borrowing Josh Thole's spikes and Bobby Parnell's glove because his luggage was lost en route from Buffalo. Gee beat the Braves that day. And now he is 6-0 after topping Atlanta again.
Manager Terry Collins made the "very uncomfortable" choice to pull Gee from a shutout bid in the bottom of the seventh with his pitch count at 85 because the Mets had loaded the bases with one out in the scoreless game and Gee's spot was due up.
Gee would have remained in the game to bat if No. 8 hitter Ruben Tejada had driven in a run, but Tejada was grazed with a pitch with two runners in scoring position and awarded first base. Pinch hitter Jason Pridie then delivered a broken-bat single to right field, Jose Reyes followed with a bases-loaded triple against reliever Scott Proctor and Justin Turner added a sacrifice fly as the Mets beat the Braves, 5-0.
Gee's 6-0 record matches the best start to a season by a rookie in franchise history. The other pitcher to accomplish that feat? Jon Matlack in 1972, when he went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award, ahead of runner-up Dave Rader of the San Francisco Giants and Mets teammate John Milner. One of Matlack's victories during that streak came as a reliever.
Gee's biggest out came in the fifth inning, after he surrendered a leadoff double to slumping Dan Uggla and ultimately faced two runners in scoring position with two out. Martin Prado worked the count full before Gee retired him on a grounder to shortstop with a changeup on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
"I just kept changing speeds on him," Gee said. "I was just trying to get that contact."
Gee actually had been concerned about his repertoire of pitches in the bullpen while warming before the game. His signature pitch is a changeup, but his slider was acting terribly as he prepared for the 7:12 p.m. first pitch.
Gee needed a pitch to move in on left-handed batters, so they could not just dive over the plate for his changeup. So he got inventive. Gee rotated the grip on his four-seam fastball and started experimenting with cutters. Pitching coach Dan Warthen stood in the batter's box in the bullpen, nodding in approval. Gee threw five cutters, a new pitch, in the game by Thole's count, registering 86-87 mph. It kept the Braves left-handed hitters honest. One cutter retired Freddie Freeman in the sixth on a grounder to first baseman Daniel Murphy. The slider normally registers 79 mph.
"I mean, the slider has been really bad lately, so I was like, 'I've got to figure something out here,'" Gee said. "So in the bullpen I was just trying to tighten it up and throw it harder, and with a little bit shorter break [like a cutter]. It looked pretty good. And Dan said it looked pretty good. So we went with it. I toyed with it a little bit during the week, just seeing what it would do. I felt like it was a big pitch for me tonight."
The Mets are unbeaten in Gee's eight starts this season. Not bad for an unheralded 21st-round draft pick in 2007 out of Texas-Arlington who was so unsure he would have a professional career in baseball that he was making arrangements to follow father Kevin's footsteps into firefighting in Fort Worth, Texas, before the draft.
"I actually moved kind of fast through the system," Gee said. "The guys were pitching good in the rotation, so there was really no spot for me. I understood that. It's disappointing some of the guys got hurt, but I'm just glad that I could step in and try to help out."