PHILADELPHIA — Seven years removed from perhaps the most famous moment of his star-crossed career, Noah Syndergaard is going to be back on the mound in the World Series — and starting another Game 3, at that.
He will pitch for the Phillies against the Astros on Monday night with the series even at one win apiece as it shifts to Citizens Bank Park, where an inevitably rowdy crowd awaits.
This specific stage is one on which Syndergaard has experience. It was Game 3 in the 2015 World Series, the first at Citi Field, when he was a fresh-faced, flamethrowing rookie, that Syndergaard last was here. His first pitch to the Royals that night flew to the backstop, up and in on Alcides Escobar, a known first-pitch swinger who on that occasion ended up on his butt in the batter’s box. When Kansas City players expressed displeasure with that approach, Syndergaard said afterward, “If the Royals have a problem with me throwing inside, they can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away.”
Syndergaard has done and been through a lot since then. He dealt with a bunch of injuries, including missing effectively all of 2020-21 after Tommy John surgery; decided to leave the Mets, who wanted him back; signed a one-year contract with the Angels last offseason and got traded to the Phillies in August. Along the way, he lost much of the zip on that trademark fastball, turning him into a back-of-the-rotation option late this year.
“Seven years just seems like a long time ago,” Syndergaard, still only 30 years old, said Sunday. “I was just a very naive rookie at the time. I’ve had a lot of baseball under my belt since then to mature and to accumulate some experience. I’ve been in this scenario before. I think the Phillies have been in this scenario before.”
As they are now, the Phillies were knotted at 1-1 in the NLDS against Atlanta and in the NLCS against San Diego when they got to go home. They won all of those games in both series, a 5-0 record.
As they try to stay perfect, Syndergaard is unlikely to pitch long Monday. Phillies manager Rob Thomson estimated he’ll “probably” max out at around three or four innings. That is largely because Syndergaard hasn’t made a true, full start since mid-September. When he got the ball in Game 4 against Atlanta, he went three innings, facing 10 batters.
“If he’s throwing the ball well and he’s not rusty and he’s sharp, we’ll keep going as long as he feels good,” Thomson said.
Syndergaard said: “I could go for as long as they will allow me to. Now is the time as ever to empty the tanks . . . So I’ll go as long as they will allow me.”
In facing the Astros twice during his time in the AL West this year, Syndergaard had mixed results. He tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings in an April game but got knocked around for three runs and three hits (and four walks) in four innings in a July rematch.
Notably, his free pass problem lessened late. He walked 2.5 batters per nine innings with the Angels, 1.5 with the Phillies.
“The challenges are that it seems like he’s gotten his command together,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You know, he has a very good slider, changeup. He’s pitching more now than he was before when he was just a power pitcher when he was with the Mets, when he was, like, overpowering people . . . He’s more of a complete pitcher than he was before.”
Syndergaard said: “I’m just focusing on being who I can be. I’m not trying to get outside my realm of a pitcher. I definitely learned a lot and feel like I’ve evolved as a pitcher, not just a thrower, over the course of this year.”
Going with Syndergaard for Game 3 was the result of some rejiggering — and aggressive managing — by the Phillies and Thomson. All season, including in the NLCS, lefthander Ranger Suarez was the No. 3 starter. Syndergaard was a backup. But because Thomson used Suarez for two outs and 11 pitches in Game 1 against Houston, helping the Phillies steal a win after falling behind big early, they opted to hold him back until Game 4. The extra day of rest will afford him a better chance of pitching deeper.
“We’re going to be using the bullpen and I have a lot of confidence in everybody out of that bullpen,” Thomson said. “So they will be, we’ll be grinding on ’em a little bit for sure.”