Kansas City- (BoxScore) It was the sixth inning. The bases were loaded with Royals. Kendrys Morales, the 2015 Silver Slugger at the DH position, was up at the plate and it almost seemed inevitable. The team that rarely strikes out had finally mounted a rally and a 2-0 lead by the Mets was about to evaporate. The eventuality of it all seemed so whatever.
What happened next served notice to both the Royals and the rest of the league: Noah Syndergaard is no ordinary man.
Three sliders that are still being discussed today, even in disgust in some barbecue pits in Kansas City, were unleashed on an unsuspecting Kendrys Morales and all he could do was flail. You could see the rubik’s cube that Thor dropped on Morales and he had three chances to figure it out. All of those came at speeds of 95, 93 and 93. Think about that for one second.
Folks after the game swore it was a cutter, but it was left as a slider. And the baseball world was not the same again.
Games like this and moments like this invent fun fictional arguments for Mets fans that, in the best of scenarios for the Mets, could go on all summer and deep into October and early November: who is the best of these starters?
Syndergaard made his pitch, literally, and most have been convinced that he is indeed the one with the greatest potential. Science has not fully immersed into baseball yet. We still don’t know how to prevent pitchers from completely blowing out their arm. There are plenty of theories about what could prevent arm fatigue. Teams use pitch counts. After 90 pitches, every single pitch is carefully digested by the manager and tested and hypothesized. Columns are born after the sixth inning when pitch counts run up and pitchers start losing their velocity.
But there was Noah Syndergaard laying waste to all of that. He’s 6’6 and 240, so he’s a linebacker throwing fastballs. If anyone is built for the rigors of deep pitch counts and testing the limits of what we know about pitchers, he is NOT the guy. He is the exception. He is not the rule. Perhaps that’s whats more special about Syndergaard than the other pitchers on this pitching staff.
Matz stands out because he’s a lefty. DeGrom stands out because of his hair and his ability to pitch even without his best stuff. Harvey is special because he has a certain quality that draws your attention and for most of the fan base, he was the first symbol of change.
Syndergaard just stands out. He’s your average superhero pitcher. Capable of hitting triple digits for 9 innings, then throw mind bending sliders and curves at ridiculous speeds that make baseball folk argue about what they had just seen.
I don’t know what we’re seeing just yet from Thor. What I do know is that it hasn’t been seen before. What I do know is that his development is continuing. Much of the discussion pre-game, while American Woman was blasting as he warmed up, was what retaliation would the Royals take on young Noah and the Mets? We all remember his physical and verbal assault on the Royals last year. The only victor against the pesky Royals that the Mets could muster.
We didn’t know how he would respond in game 2. New Yorkers saw Matt Harvey do good, but not great and the Mets hitters look old and broken if your David Wright, and dazed and confused if your Yoenis Cespedes. Syndergaard was responsible for exacting the Mets revenge. Having to sit through another ceremony, one the Mets officials did not protest as is being reported, the Mets had to be pumped to get one more shot at the champs.
A first inning triple at the hands of Alcides Escobar, slapping a ball the opposite way that was at eye level, did not look good. But something happened and clicked. Syndergaard settled down in what was a frenzy atmosphere. He struck out 2-3-and-4 in the Royals lineup and the inning was over and the fans were left wondering what had happened.
That’s what great pitchers do. In the face of overwhelming odds, they come up with their best stuff. It reminded me of Jacob DeGrom in last year’s starts against the Dodgers. In game 1 and game 5, deGrom seemed to work in and out of trouble summoning the will and finding a way out of innings that should have ended worse. In both games, game 1 against Kershaw and game 5 against Greinke, deGrom never blinked and offered no signs of weakening. That kind of mental fortitude is what has everyone buzzing and everyone excited about the future here in NY.
Tuesday’s performance elevated the expectations for DeGrom on Friday’s home opener and eventually will elevate the expectation out of Harvey and Matz for their next starts. Syndergaard’s spring suggested that he was not feeling the arm fatigue that people had placed on DeGrom. Until DeGrom hits 98 on the gun, people will be worried.
There was Syndergaard hitting triple digits. There was the explosive Dan Warthen slider. There was the hook from hell. At some point superlatives will get old. There will only be one word columns for Syndergaard’s performance. You will know by one sentence: Thor was pitching today.
Other stuff you may care about:
- Jim Henderson for me was the second biggest development out of this game. I had to rewatch his inning and his tailing up fastball is going to be a deadly weapon. Most interesting was that he was regularly hitting mid 90’s. Good for Terry Collins putting him in that situation at that point in the game. He seemed to relish the opportunity, not just in this game but with the Mets. If he’s anything like he was on Tuesday for the rest of the season the Mets will certainly have picked up a huge steal.
- Finally, the championship belt has made its way into the Mets clubhouse. The belt which traveled around the Mets locker room all year last year has now found a home with Neil Walker who got it for his first home run in a Mets uniform, and the Mets first of 2016. His two run home run broke the scoreless tie and gave the Mets all they needed. Fans got pretty worked up over Murphy’s stellar debut in a Nats uniform so it was nice to see Walker give them something to crow back about. The Neil Walker scouting report: solid.
- Jeurys Familia had as much demons to exorcise as any Mets player in Kauffman stadium. He had converted every save from June 30th until Alex Gordon launched a game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 1 of the World Series. It was nice to see Familia get a strike out and then get through the next two batters in four pitches. That 7-8-9 of Henderson, Reed and Familia hopefully will be lights out like they were on Tuesday for the entire year and playoffs. One can only hope.
- It may just be me, but hearing Rob Manfred talk, makes me think this guy is your average baseball fan dressed up to talk like a suit. He has an upstate accent, and talks alot with his hands. I hope his tenure will solve two of the biggest things affecting the game: how to get more african americans involved in the game and getting rid of the New York Yankees.
- Addison Reed with a fresh baldie? Dude always looks pissed leaving the mound. I love it.
- David Wright had to feel good getting two steals. Two nights ago he was old and couldn’t catch up to fastballs down the middle. Now he’s running on one of the best catchers in the game. Albeit he ran against Chris Young who takes forever to get to the plate, still a pretty effing good start. Spinal stenosis may have taken some of his ability, but it hasn’t taken the Captain’s pride.
- I’m still not a huge David Wright fan and still, despite the recent arrest and allegations of domestic abuse by Jose Reyes, stand by my opinion that the Mets should have given Reyes the $90M contract instead of signing Wright to a $100M+ contract. Both players have taken different paths down, but both are trending in the same direction. I still remember the SI cover in 2006 and referring to them as kids. Ten years later its amazing how things change.
- As much as I loved Wright drawing the two walks, he can’t hit number 2 in the same lineup that Michael Conforto hits in. I say that because its becoming increasingly evident that Terry will begin the season with the training wheels on young Mike. I will be shocked if Conforto isn’t hitting in the 2 hole by the middle of June. Shocked.
- Lucas Duda reminded you again why despite the 30HR potential, his playing first base is still an adventure and will continue to make plays like Eric Hosmer’s dash to home in the ninth inning in Game 5 a relevant talking point. He’s come leaps and bounds since he started, but he still isn’t consistently scooping everything off the dirt.
- Gary, Keith and Ron. Its truly a pleasure gentlemen.