The faces were grim before the Mets took on the Diamondbacks on Friday night, the words from Sandy Alderson, Steven Matz and Terry Collins even grimmer. Matz will be out for at least three weeks, reliever Jerry Blevins is nowhere near coming back and Michael Cuddyer is playing hurt.
And Noah Syndergaard? Oh, he's just fine.
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The pregame was a somber occasion, but given Friday night's 4-2 win at Citi Field, the sad faces were only temporary.
The Mets played like a team tired of licking its wounds and used the first inning to prove it, scoring four runs. That would be more than enough for Syndergaard, who reminded the Citi faithful that there isn't only one young hotshot pitcher in town. Even before Matz came up, there were three.
Syndergaard (4-4, 3.11 ERA) allowed one earned run, four hits and two walks in eight innings, striking out a career-high 13. He located his overpowering fastball, mixed in his off-speed pitches for outs and stymied a Diamondbacks lineup that boasts the best hitter in the league in Paul Goldschmidt (0-for-3, two strikeouts). Syndergaard matched the longest outing of his career, and his strikeouts were the most for a Met this season. In his last three starts, he's 2-0 and has allowed three earned runs in 22 innings.
"You've got to be resilient," Collins said. "You've got to take the good times with the bad, and [Thursday] was tough, but he had a job to do . . . It was a tremendous outing."
It certainly was, though not right away.
The Diamondbacks scored in the first inning after A.J. Pollock doubled to center on the second pitch of the game. Pollock stole third and scored on Goldschmidt's sacrifice fly to center.
But the Mets answered by scoring four runs in a span of six pitches with two outs in the bottom of the first. Lucas Duda (0-for-13 at that point) hit a three-run homer to center, just below the apple, and Michael Cuddyer (playing with an injured knee that the Mets say he cannot injure further) followed with a homer to left for a 4-1 lead.
"Two guys that we hope to ride in the second half broke out a little tonight," said Collins, noting that Cuddyer might be more relaxed now that he knows he can't aggravate his injury. "If you get Cuddy and Lucas going, it changes the whole dynamic of the lineup."
After that, Syndergaard allowed only one runner to reach scoring position: David Peralta, who doubled down the leftfield line against the shift. Welington Castillo had an RBI single against Jeurys Familia in the ninth.
"The ability to change speeds is the ability for my success tonight," Syndergaard said. "A lot of my worst outings in Vegas started off with three, four runs in the first inning, and I could never get out of the first inning without a run being scored. I just had to not press the panic button."
Syndergaard struck out the side in the sixth, including Jake Lamb on what he called a mistake pitch. With an 0-and-2 count, Kevin Plawecki told him to elevate the ball. Instead, it nicked the strike zone for a called third strike. Syndergaard shrugged to his catcher and walked off the mound.
Collins left him in for two more innings, leading to a career-high 116 pitches.
"I didn't know that was a career high!" Collins said. "That was a piece of information I needed to hear."
The revelation was greeted by laughter. Given the grim afternoon, it was a sound Collins no doubt can get used to.