The Mets’ season had barely ended before there was talk of more. If Noah Syndergaard could do that against that team, what could he do for the Mets in the future, Terry Collins wondered. Whatever it is, it was probably going to be good, Rene Rivera thought.
At this point, it’s cliché to compare Syndergaard to his alter ego, Thor. On days he’s slated to pitch, fans come to the ballpark dressed up in Viking hats or carrying hammers. Even his warm-up music — the theme to “Game of Thrones” earlier in the season, and the intensely dramatic “Carmina Burana” toward the end — lends itself to the mythos. Wednesday night’s wild-card performance against the Giants — steely and devastating, against the best postseason pitcher of an era — helped solidify that persona.
But as far as Collins is concerned, this isn’t Syndergaard’s peak. It’s merely his origin story.
“He’s still very, very young,” he said of Syndergaard, 24. “He’s grown so much and matured so much as a pitcher, he’s going to be a real good.”
Operative words: Going to be. Not that he wasn’t good Wednesday, Collins said.
Despite the Mets loss, Syndergaard left no doubt about his ability, and certainly made a case to be the team’s true ace next year. He stymied the Giants lineup time and time again, becoming only the fourth Mets pitcher to rack up strikeouts in double digits in the playoffs, joining Jacob deGrom, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver, who did it twice. His sinker was especially devastating — at times creeping up toward 100-mph and responsible for the first three of his 10 strikeouts.
Syndergaard tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, and carried the no-hitter into the sixth, when Denard Span singled with two outs.
“It was great,” Rivera said. “It was the best outing I caught this year. The intensity was there, the focus was there, his pitches were there, all of his pitchers were good today . . . I’m looking forward for more.”
There it is again: “more.” Despite being the hardest thrower on the staff, Syndergaard is the only one of the Mets’ young pitchers to stay healthy this year. The bone spur in his pitching elbow, he said after the game, barely bothers him anymore. He’s never had Tommy John surgery and appears to feed off big-game situations: He was the only Mets starter to win a game in the World Series last year.
He now has a 2.42 ERA in five career playoff games and is only the third Mets pitcher to throw at least seven scoreless innings, having allowed two hits or fewer. If there was question whether a do-or-die game would rattle him, they were answered immediately, when he struck out five in the first three innings.
“It’s the first game he’s ever pitched where, like the seventh game of the World Series, you lose, you’re out,” Collins said. “That’s a lot to ask of a kid . . . to go out there and have to pitch in that against [Madison] Bumgarner. He rose to the occasion. That’s why I think he’s going to be very special, because you can be a lot better when you’re challenged in these situations, and he did a great job.”
Ask Syndergaard about the key to his success and he refuses to get philosophical.
“It’s just about being in the moment,” he said, “and not getting too ahead into the future.”
It works for him, personally, but when the Mets see the potential they have in Thor, it’s becoming very difficult to not look ahead.