Noah Syndergaard strikes an imposing figure on the mound -- 6-3 with long blond hair that blew in the swirling wind Sunday night. When he gets set to pitch, his eyes go so wide you can see the whites, and he looks more like a Norse warrior than a Norse god.
Which is why the questions surrounding his NLCS Game 2 start were almost mundane: Would he be sore after warming up repeatedly and pitching an inning of relief Thursday night? Could he possibly outduel the latest in the assembly line of Cy Young Award-winners and candidates whom the Mets have had to face this postseason? Would the cold be an issue?
"He has no fear," Terry Collins said Sunday night after Syndergaard led the Mets to a 4-1 win over the Cubs and a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. "He's not intimidated by anything. When you're that big, you shouldn't be intimidated by anything. He's legit."
Syndergaard again proved unflinching in the bright lights of the playoffs, allowing one run and three hits in 52/3 innings, striking out nine and walking one. He threw 101 pitches, 64 for strikes, and retired the side in order in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
In the third, he walked Dexter Fowler but struck out three. Even more impressive, he outlasted and outpitched a legitimate Cy Young candidate in Jake Arrieta, whose 22 wins in the regular season led the majors and who had a 1.77 ERA to go with it. Arrieta ended the regular season with 20 straight quality starts and posted a 0.86 ERA in that stretch.
To which, Syndergaard apparently said, challenge accepted.
"He wanted to start," Collins said, noting that he had given Syndergaard an out: If he had felt sore after his relief appearance, the Mets would have waited to use him. "He's got all the confidence in the world, and he should."
His contributions have put the Mets in an enviable spot. Not only are they halfway to a World Series berth, but when the series resumes Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Jacob deGrom is slated to pitch against Kyle Hendricks, who was 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA this season. Hendricks figures to be a downright respite for the Mets, who have faced Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Arrieta in the last four games.
"We have some very good pitching and I think we can stack up with anyone," Collins said, understating the situation to no small degree. "When you look at our pitching staff, you just shake your head . . . They can maintain 95 to 98 mph for six or seven innings at a time . . . It's huge, and that's why we thought that if we could get to the postseason, we could match up with a lot of teams."
Including Syndergaard's start Sunday night, the playoff rotation is 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA. Collins thinks it's only going to get better. In fact, Syndergaard is as much an indication of that as anyone.
"When he first got here, you could see the power arm," Collins said before adding: "He [also] listens. He asks questions. He got better fast because he learned the things he had to work on."