David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Depending on your dugout, Noah Syndergaard is either Citi Field's beloved blond enforcer or a cowardly, unrepentant assassin after throwing the opening-pitch fastball that sailed over Alcides Escobar's head in Friday night's Game 3.
There's no point in arguing right or wrong.
And that's pretty much where the line of demarcation was drawn as the conversation carried into Saturday afternoon, when Terry Collins talked about the importance of pitching inside and Royals counterpart Ned Yost labeled Syndergaard's fastball a hazardous, uncalled-for tactic.
To Syndergaard's credit, he doubled down on his Friday comments, telling Newsday's Marc Carig that he couldn't care less about angering the Royals.
"They can be [ticked] off all they want," Syndergaard said as the Mets took batting practice before Game 4.
For disciples of the 1986 Mets, those clamoring for years that the Flushing Nine needed more attitude, more of an edge, they now have Syndergaard, whose brash, unfiltered commentary Friday made it sound as if he had just stepped out of an idling DeLorean, transported from a different era.
After sleeping on it, however, Collins was a tad worried about Syndergaard's tough-guy language riling up the Royals, who ripped the righthander to anyone holding a microphone the previous night. But Syndergaard won't pitch again until a Game 7, if necessary, and it was doubtful that Kansas City would risk sparking an on-field feud in the middle of the World Series.
Not that the Royals don't have a reputation for it. They got into a beanball war with the White Sox in early April, and Game 3 starter Yordano Ventura and reliever Kelvin Herrera were suspended for throwing at the A's Brett Lawrie during the same series.
In these types of skirmishes, there often is no innocent party, just one team asserting its right to play the game a certain way and the other crying foul. These roles tend to alternate in the course of a season, and we don't have to go that far back to see the flip side, when the Dodgers' Chase Utley destroyed Ruben Tejada with an overly aggressive takeout slide.
That's a debate that could rage until Opening Day next year, and MLB attempted to defuse it midway through the NLDS by suspending Utley for two games -- a penalty that remains under appeal. But there's an important distinction to make here. Utley wiped out a vulnerable Tejada, and the collision fractured the shortstop's leg.
Syndergaard didn't do any damage. The 98-mph fastball, though unsettling, didn't come close to hitting Escobar, who hit the dirt. The Royals never tried to knock down Syndergaard, although he batted twice, but continued the war of words before Game 4.
"It's just a dangerous spot to throw a ball, especially when you throw that hard," Yost said. "Throwing underneath somebody's chin -- if it was intentional, not intentional -- it's just a bad spot."
First off, Escobar would have to be 10 feet tall for that fastball to be considered beneath his chin. It was well over his head, which probably was a much safer place than where Daniel Murphy has been pitched in this series.
Yost talked about responsibly keeping hitters off balance with below-the-chest heat, but Murphy has seen a few inside fastballs in the neck region. It's always about perspective.
"Our game is not perfect and the people that play it aren't perfect," Collins said. "And you can't make every pitch exactly where you want it or the game would be easy for most people. But I think pitching inside is a huge part of our game."
The difference this time -- and the reason for it to be "blown out of proportion," as Collins said -- was Syndergaard's disregard for covering his tracks. That uncommon, entertaining behavior raised as many eyebrows in the Mets' clubhouse as it did down the hallway with the Royals.
"Everybody saw a different side of him," Matt Harvey said. "Usually he's a little more reserved and calm. I think being at home, he got a lot of adrenaline and probably carried that into his news conference. His comments -- for us -- are taken with a grain of salt. But we're obviously happy about what he did."
Happy, unhappy. Right, wrong. Aggressive, dirty. Take a side, and eventually, depending on the uniform, you'll be on the opposite one a week, month or year from now.