Noah Syndergaard’s superhero rookie season has been one for baseball to remember, and now with his team down two games to none in the World Series, the New York Mets are hoping that Thor’s Hammer can once again save the day. In what will be by far the biggest start of Syndergaard’s life, the 23-year-old flamethrower will be tasked with cooling off a relentless Kansas City Royals lineup that has shown absolutely no quit.
Syndergaard’s dominant inaugural campaign has included a 9-7 regular season record with more strikeouts (166) than innings pitched (150), but it’s his postseason performance that has really elevated him to a new level. Through three games (two starts), Syndergaard has registered an absurd 20 punch-outs across just 13 innings of work. Not only would the Mets not be in this position without Syndergaard, whose sole relief appearance came at a critical juncture in Game 5 of the NLDS with the game—and series-very much on the line, but he’s also been the Mets’ best starter on a staff filled with aces, a feat that may be more impressive than his 101 MPH heater.
New York’s incredible starting pitching is the backbone of the team and the biggest reason the Mets are coming for the crown. In a postseason where we’ve seen a number of contenders trot out two thoroughbreds only to have a stable of ponies in the barn behind them, Syndergaard has given the Mets’ a competitive advantage with another stallion to pair with Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey.
While many rightfully focus on Syndergaard’s impressive velocity as well as his ability to sustain it throughout the course of a game, the young hurler has become so much more of a pitcher since arriving at the major-league level. Previously too reliant on his fastball and predictable with his process as a result, Syndergaard, the owner of a devastating curveball, has learned how to be a pitcher instead of a thrower. Against a Royals team that hits the heat better than any other and seemingly puts the ball in play no matter who steps into the batter’s box, Syndergaard’s evolution as a pitcher will be especially important to whatever success he has.
Syndergaard, better known as a superhero by faithful Mets fans that cheer him on while wearing long blonde wigs, doesn’t look anything like the part to those who step in the box against him. An imposing figure standing at 6’6’” and about 245 lbs, Syndergaard is a monster on the mound and a villain to the opposition.
As if he already knows what to expect, Syndergaard isn’t approaching this game any differently. Brimming with confidence and armed with an electric arsenal of pitches, Syndergaard is ready to climb what has seemingly been an insurmountable Kansas City Mountain. Vowing to pitch to his “strengths” (read: he’s going to throw the fastball) instead of the Royals’ weaknesses, Syndergaard is acting like a 35-year-old veteran who already possesses two blinged-out championship rings instead of the 23-year-old rookie who didn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training.
Syndergaard’s self-confidence is supported by his teammates, and more importantly by his coaches. He’s been so good—so downright dominant—that Terry Collins revealed he was in consideration to start Game 1 of the World Series. The same pitcher who seemingly couldn’t figure out how to function away from Citi Field earlier this season is the same guy who nearly took the ball in Kansas City for Game 1 ahead of deGrom and Harvey. It’s been quite the turnaround.
In a virtual elimination game with the Mets in an 0-2 hole, Syndergaard has to deliver his best outing of the season. The good news for the Mets is that he’s been virtually unhittable when the sounds of the Citi are rocking out behind him with a 2.46 ERA, 0.82 WHIP & .196 BAA (12 starts) during the regular season, including 86 strikeouts over his 84 innings pitched. But he’s never faced a lineup that has as much talent as Kansas City does, or a one through nine that has as much discipline in their approach as the Royals always do.
During spring training, David Wright famously chewed out Syndergaard in the middle of an intrasquad scrimmage for having a sandwich in the dugout as his teammates were on the field.
“Being a young player, any chance you get to learn, you go out there and learn,” Wright said.
“It took me off guard a little bit,” Syndergaard admitted. “But I understand where it’s coming from.”
Since that time, Syndergaard has learned more than he could have imagined, is evolving into a leader on the pitching staff and now prepares to take the ball and play on the Mets’ biggest stage since 2000 when his team lost the Subway Series to the crosstown rival Yankees. Syndergaard was eight years old.
With the season hanging in the balance, the Mets are asking Thor to wield the fastball, drop the hammer and keep their dream alive.