For two games of the 111th World Series, the Royals looked too comfortable turning two of the Mets' hardest-throwing pitchers into piñatas. In Noah Syndergaard's mind, the time had come for premeditated mayhem.
So before his critical Game 3 start Friday night, he approached catcher Travis d'Arnaud with an idea. His first words: "How do you feel about high and tight for the first pitch and then a curveball for the second one?"
In the Mets' 9-3 win, Syndergaard threw 104 gut-wrenching pitches to save his team's season, and none carried more weight than his first. With Citi Field still buzzing at the sight of Mike Piazza's ceremonial first pitch, Syndergaard whizzed a 98-mph heater near the head of Royals leadoff man Alcides Escobar.
"I feel like it really made a statement to start the game off, that you guys can't dig in and get too aggressive because I'll come in there," said Syndergaard, whose brashness rubbed off on the rest of the Mets.
The Royals had feasted on Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom in the first two games. Humbled, the Mets roared to life in Game 3.
David Wright drove in four runs with a two-run homer in the first and a two-run single in a four-run sixth that broke open the game. Juan Uribe, on the shelf with a chest injury since Sept. 25, came off the bench in the sixth to lace an RBI single in his first postseason at-bat. Syndergaard held the Royals to three runs in six innings.
Against Harvey and deGrom, the Royals swung and missed only 10 times, an expected result against the hardest team to strike out in all of baseball. Against Syndergaard, who touched triple-digits on the radar gun, the Royals struck out six times and swung and missed 16 times. He ended his night by wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.
Syndergaard had long since established that things would be different, starting with his pitch to Escobar. "I think Noah was just trying to wake everybody up," Mets outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "And he did."
Before the Mets pulled away, the Royals showed the resilience that had been their trademark, shaking off Syndergaard's early message. They went up 1-0 in the first partly because the Mets failed to turn a potential inning-ending double play.
The Royals took a 3-2 lead in the second as Alex Rios singled home a run and scored on a two-out passed ball charged to d'Arnaud. But Curtis Granderson drilled a two-run homer in the third off Yordano Ventura, who was chased after 31/3 innings. The Mets led 4-3 and would never trail again.
Ventura failed to cover first on a grounder in the fourth, allowing the Mets a tack-on run. And in the four-run sixth, the Royals again paid for sloppy defense.
With one out and a run already in on Uribe's single, Franklin Morales fielded a comebacker from Granderson. It could have been a double play, but Morales froze. The confusion allowed Granderson to reach base, opening the door for Wright, whose two-run single came on the first pitch he saw from Kelvin Herrera. Yoenis Cespedes' sacrifice fly made it 9-3, a few hours after that first pitch set the tone.
It had become easy to forget, lost in all the talk about the relentlessness of the Royals. But the Mets lived this season with adversity, too, learned to fight through it, feed off it and ultimately conquer it. Syndergaard personified it.
After the pitch to Escobar, TV cameras showed Mike Moustakas spitting out a stream of obscenities from the Royals' dugout. The pitch sent the crowd into a frenzy, and the fans roared again when Escobar struck out, unable to catch up to a fastball.
After the game, the Royals fumed. Syndergaard shrugged.
"If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away," he said. "I've got no problem with that."