While Noah Syndergaard's first pitch on Friday night generated the most headlines, it was his 104th and final offering that ultimately swayed Game 3 of the World Series.
To begin the Mets' 9-3 victory over the Royals, Syndergaard buzzed Alcides Escobar with a 98 mph heater on the first pitch of the game. The purpose pitch smashed into the backstop, leaving the Royals' aggressive leadoff man on his backside.
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Later, the Mets righty admitted his intent was not to hit Escobar, but to make the Royals "uncomfortable." And in case they had any issues with throwing inside, the 6-foot-6 "Thor" invited the Royals to "meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away."StoryWhy knockdown pitch didn't win game for MetsStoryMets get back in World Series with Game 3 winColumnLennon: Syndergaard drops hammer in Game 3
It made for a fabulous sound bite and infused the World Series with an added edge.
But Syndergaard's most critical pitch of the night actually came in the sixth inning -- with far less bravado and fanfare. Protecting a 5-3 lead, Syndergaard turned away a bases-loaded rally, extracting himself from the jam by getting Alex Rios to tap a roller to end the inning.
He did it with a perfectly located slider, running away from the righthanded Rios, who broke his bat on the weak groundout.
"It was a huge situation and [catcher Travis d'Arnaud] kept me locked in and focused the entire game," Syndergaard said. "And I trusted his pitch selection ... We went back-to-back sliders, made two quality pitches, and was able to get out of the inning."
Syndergaard, 23, touched triple-digits earlier in the game. In a tight spot in the sixth, it would have been easy for him to fire the kind of fastballs the Royals have hammered all season long.
Instead, d'Arnaud wanted to use the Royals' contact tendencies against them. And that meant going with sliders, even though a mistake over the plate would leave Syndergaard vulnerable to giving up a game-changing hit.
"They're a contact team," d'Arnaud said. "More likely than not, they're going to put it in play. Fortunately, he executed his pitch away and was able to hit it off the end of the bat."
Rios' roller to shortstop Wilmer Flores ended the Royals' chances at a comeback. It happened only because Syndergaard possessed the confidence to throw a secondary pitch in a big spot, a key in his development this season.
"Earlier this year, who would have known if he would have executed those two pitches like he did?" d'Arnaud said. "For me, that just shows how much he's grown, how much he's matured, and how much he's changed from a thrower to a pitcher."
Just how big was Syndergaard's low-and-away slider? According to FanGraphs.com, when Alex Gordon walked to load the bases in the sixth, Royals had a 23.5 percent win expectancy. But after Rios grounded out, that percentage plunged to just 12.9 percent.
With one perfectly placed pitch, Syndergaard had shaved the Royals' chances of winning by a whopping 10.6 percent. Statistically, this was the most costly out the Royals made all night.
"I knew it was a key moment in the game," Syndergaard said. "But I was able to just locate two good sliders on the outside corner and induce a ground ball and get out of that inning."