HOUSTON -- Some starting pitchers search for their inner warrior as they warm up in the bullpen before a game, trying to build intensity, focusing on slights real and imagined, silently going through their work and feeding off the echoes of a fastball popping their catcher's mitt.
When Jacob deGrom warms up, however, he sometimes turns to pitching coach Dave Eiland and says something funny, with a grin. A humorous aside or an observation. Eiland laughs, and then deGrom turns to the catcher to throw his next pitch and somehow, in that instant, that expression of competitiveness that his teammates recognize immediately returns -- like a great actor transforming into character when somebody yells "Action!" And deGrom, immediately back to full focus on his work, spins a ball perfectly.
Statistics and this fall's National League Cy Young Award voting will forever frame deGrom's 2018 performance as one of the most unique seasons for any pitcher, ever. The ERA that is almost a half-run better than any other pitcher's; the absurd win total, which hasn't yet reached double digits. But what a lot of rival scouts and some of his teammates will remember is his imperturbability on the mound through the most challenging circumstances for any pitcher.