KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Noah Syndergaard fed off the energy long into the winter. As the fireballing Mets righthander soaked up living the life in New York City, plenty of fans expressed their approval for his famous brushback, the one that sent the Royals’ Alcides Escobar to the dirt.
The reaction from The Pitch, one of the memorable moments in last year’s World Series loss to the Royals, reinforced Syndergaard’s affection for performing beneath the brightest spotlight in baseball.
“I love the city, I love the fan base, I love pitching in our ballpark,” he said this spring. “I come from a very small town [in Texas]. I was just kind of blown away by the excitement that happens in the city. I can’t picture — and I really don’t want to picture — playing anywhere else.”
There is a tradeoff for that brashness. On Tuesday, for the first time, Syndergaard will feel the full force of it when he stands atop the mound at Kauffman Stadium.
The hulking, 6-6 wunderkind will be surrounded by vocal fans who haven’t forgotten the pitch above Escobar’s head, or the pitcher’s challenge to the Royals to “meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away” should they have an issue with him.
The Royals forcefully have denied that they are seeking retaliation — as first reported by Newsday — although sources said signals of such a possibility had reached Mets officials through intermediaries.
“He doesn’t let the outside noise, whatever it may be, whether the Royals don’t like him, the fans don’t like him, the media doesn’t like him, he doesn’t let anything affect him,” said catcher Kevin Plawecki, a teammate in the minors and with the Mets. “Which I think is why he’s so good. I don’t think Tuesday will be any different.”
Spring training brought its share of mini-crises, none worth taking too seriously, though all of them were nonetheless prominent. Such is anything that might impact the Mets’ gaggle of young guns.
Matt Harvey’s bladder infection added another level of intrigue to his mostly blasé camp. Jacob deGrom’s velocity watch became a jumpy fan base’s panicked preoccupation. Steven Matz’s grumbling about results raised eyebrows.
Syndergaard brought no such drama, no velocity dips, no inkling of concern. Judging by the radar gun — his fastball sizzled in the upper 90s — he somehow had set his body clock to the middle of June.
Manager Terry Collins acknowledged that of all the starters, it was Syndergaard who enjoyed the most impressive camp. For the Royals to sweep the two-game set, they must beat Harvey and Syndergaard in consecutive games, a tall task.
“It feels like every day we’ve got a stopper,” David Wright said of Syndergaard, who went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA as a rookie. “You look at our staff, and every day it seems like we’ve got an ace-type guy on the mound.”
A few weeks ago, when it became clear that Syndergaard could face the Royals in Kansas City, he shrugged. Yes, he had thought of the reception he might receive. No, he didn’t care.
For Syndergaard, it’s all part of the package of pitching for perhaps the most exciting team in the biggest city. It made little difference that sometimes he’d be viewed as the unapologetic villain.
“Who wouldn’t want to pitch in New York City?” he said. “Being able to put on a New York Mets uniform each day, that’s my ultimate goal. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my career.”
Notes & quotes: Large crowds are expected for this weekend’s series against the Phillies at Citi Field. The Mets are asking fans to take public transit and arrive early. Friday’s home opener is slated for 1:10 p.m.