The whole National League has quivered in his wake. Presented with the option of fight or flight, the choice this season has been overwhelming.
Pitchers want no part of Bryce Harper.
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But the situation Wednesday night called for a certain audacity, the kind that only can be summoned by one who fancies himself a Norse god. If there is one thing that Mets righty Noah Syndergaard has proved, it is that he is not subject to the limits of mortals.
So, in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over the Nationals, Syndergaard not only challenged Harper, but he silenced the modern-day Babe in a hipster hairdo. And in the process, the fireballer lifted an entire team.
“He’s special,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said. “No stage is too big for him.”
Few series in May could draw such pomp and circumstance. But this one did. Fans gave former Met Daniel Murphy a standing ovation in his first game this season at Citi Field.
And the Mets entered the critical matchup shorthanded, with Lucas Duda out with a back ailment, to be followed by David Wright, whose spinal stenosis made him a late scratch.
Yet, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto hit solo shots off Max Scherzer and the Nationals had no answers for Syndergaard (4-2, 2.19). He allowed five hits in seven shutout innings while recording 10 strikeouts, two of them against Harper.
And it was Harper who ended it in the ninth with a groundout against Jeurys Familia, who got his 13th save. With that, the Mets snapped a four-game losing streak.
“That’s what an ace does,” Eric Campbell said of Syndergaard, who added another trophy to his collection.
It was Syndergaard who slammed the door on a critical sweep of the Nats last season. It was Syndergaard who earned the Mets’ only win in the World Series. And it was Syndergaard who personified the brashness that the Mets will need to defend their pennant.
“He’s fearless,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s not afraid to do what he has to do.”
In this case, that meant confronting Harper, who entered play with 11 homers, 29 RBIs and a league-leading 1.066 OPS. He has been so dangerous that he had drawn a league-leading 41 walks in 158 plate appearances. But Syndergaard showed no fear.
“He throws 100 miles per hour,” Harper said. “He’s going to come after me. I know he’s not scared.”
In the first inning, Syndergaard challenged Harper with a 100-mph fastball in on the hands, which the slugger weakly grounded up the line to Syndergaard for an easy out. In the fourth, Syndergaard threw another 100-mph fastball. This time Harper watched it tail back over the inner half of the plate for a called strikeout.
In the sixth, Syndergaard, who fell behind 3-and-0 before battling back to a full count, put away Harper with a filthy slider clocked at 92 mph.
“He’s an unbelievable ballplayer, great athlete, very talented,” Syndergaard said. “I can see why a lot of people have been walking him. But I go out there and I was pitching to my strengths and I just went right after him.”
By the end of the night, Syndergaard had thrown 13 pitches of at least 100 mph, including one clocked at 101.5 mph. It was the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown in a big-league game.
“We’ve seen time and time again Noah elevate his game even more, even when you think that he can’t, if that makes any sense,” Plawecki said. “It’s pretty incredible what he’s able to do start for start.”