LOS ANGELES - The phrase "playoff-like atmosphere" can start getting thrown around as early as April during a baseball season.
For Noah Syndergaard, Saturday night's start against the Dodgers in NLDS Game 2 will mean the 23-year-old righthander will graduate from "playoff-like" to simply "playoffs."
Syndergaard said Friday night that he wouldn't feel as ready as he does for Saturday night's game if not for a start against the Nationals that definitely was playoff-like.
On Aug. 2 at Citi Field, Syndergaard allowed two runs in eight innings as the Mets beat Washington, 5-2, to sweep a weekend series and move into a virtual tie with the Nationals for first place in the NL East. It was the Mets' coming of age as a team and Syndergaard's as a pitcher.
"It was a great atmosphere there," he said. "It was a huge series, so I felt like that was when I made the jump into becoming a big-league pitcher."
Syndergaard finished his rookie campaign with a 9-7 record, a 3.24 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 150 innings. The Mets were 13-11 in his 24 starts.
One of the victories for the team, if not the pitcher, was when Syndergaard went toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw on July 3 at Dodger Stadium.
Syndergaard, in his 10th big-league start, gave up one run in six innings. Kershaw allowed one run in seven. The Mets won, 2-1, with the go-ahead run scoring on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly by Kevin Plawecki.
"The atmosphere here was electric," Syndergaard said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be tonight. We've all been looking forward to it, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Syndergaard initially struggled away from Citi Field, enough so that the Mets contemplated lining up their playoff rotation to keep him away from road starts. But he lessened that concern in his last two road outings, allowing three runs in 142/3 innings in Atlanta and Cincinnati.
"To me it's just all about getting comfortable out there on the mound, on the road," he said. "I feel like on the last couple starts I had on the road, I had a lot of success, a lot of comforts. The big thing for me was being able to execute my pitches and become more of a pitcher, not a thrower.
"To be honest, at the beginning of the year when I was having struggles on the road, it wasn't that I felt uncomfortable out there. I felt like my stuff was there. It's just a couple series of bad events happened and I got a little unlucky.
"It's pretty easy to pitch at home when you have the Mets fans. I think they're the best fans in baseball."