David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
On Friday night, Billy Joel performed the national anthem. Mike Piazza threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
But no one had a more spectacular entrance, or made a greater impact on this World Series going forward, than Noah Syndergaard in Game 3.
On the first pitch of the game, Syndergaard welcomed the Royals to Queens by rifling a 98-mph fastball over the head of leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar.StorySyndergaard's last pitch more crucial than firstStoryMets get back in World Series with Game 3 winStatsMets vs. Royals Game 3 boxscore
A day earlier, Syndergaard said he had a "few tricks up my sleeve" when asked about Escobar's boast of swinging at anything thrown at him, especially a first pitch.
Well, Syndergaard was ready to take him up on the offer. That afternoon, he discussed with catcher Travis d'Arnaud the plan of going "high and tight" to Escobar with the opening heater. This pitch went to the backstop, much to the delight of Citi Field's sellout crowd of 44,781.
"I think every postseason game that Escobar has played in, he's swung at the first-pitch fastball," Syndergaard said after the Mets' 9-3 rout. "And I didn't think he would want to swing at that one."
The reporters all laughed. Syndergaard, sitting at a table, in front of a microphone, didn't smile. He was serious -- as serious as the Mets were about battling back in this World Series. To Syndergaard, there was no time for diplomacy.
In the first two losses, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom -- the elder, more experienced arms -- were pestered to the point of distraction by the Royals. In Game 1, Escobar hit Harvey's opening pitch for an inside-the-park home run, a destabilizing early blow to the Mets.
Back at Citi Field, however, Syndergaard chose to dictate the terms. And he definitely got the Royals' attention, their fury burning white-hot on a 52-degree night that felt much colder at game time with a stiff wind blowing. From the dugout rail, Mike Moustakas was spotted yelling an obscenity or three at Syndergaard, but the Mets had delivered their message without saying a word.
The Royals, still fuming afterward, responded with a few more of their own, accusing Syndergaard of head-hunting.
"I thought it was weak -- very weak," Alex Rios said. "I thought it was unprofessional."
Said Moustakas, "The whole team was pretty upset."
Eric Hosmer added, "He said he had a master plan. So I guess it was throw at Esky's head."
That mattered zero to Syndergaard. During the postgame news conference, he was told of the Royals' response, their accusations. But Syndergaard didn't blink. He offered no apology, didn't hide behind excuses about the baseball being slick from the cold, or the mound being soft.
His manager, Terry Collins, suggested Syndergaard was "over-amped," but the pitcher himself would have none of it.
"I certainly wasn't trying to hit the guy, that's for sure," Syndergaard said. "I just didn't want him getting too comfortable. If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away. I've got no problem with that."
If the Royals were really that angry, they had two shots to take aim at Syndergaard. He led off the third inning, but Yordano Ventura threw two fastballs right down the middle before Syndergaard smacked an 0-and-2 curve to rightfield for a single. The fourth inning was more complicated, with runners at the corners, and the Royals brought in lefty reliever Danny Duffy, who struck him out.
The Mets were ahead 5-3 at that stage, so it was not the perfect opportunity for retaliation. But earlier, with the bases empty, Ventura could have buzzed Syndergaard. He chose not to.
Syndergaard didn't drill Escobar, who ducked away, and the pitch wouldn't have touched him anyway. But with the Mets down 0-2 in this series, Syndergaard clearly wasn't going to wait to be ambushed. The Royals still jumped him for three runs in six innings, so it's not as if they rolled over. But when he repeatedly was asked about that one pitch afterward, he obviously wanted to make sure the message again would be heard at the opposite end of the hallway.
"My intent on that pitch was to make them uncomfortable," he said, "and I feel like I did just that."
Syndergaard didn't hit any Royals in the head. But he's in there now, and because of Friday night, the Mets are, too.