No man bun. His recently trimmed locks. Shaving the beard. Sixty-six degrees at first pitch.
Noah Syndergaard offered up a number of theories, some tongue-in-cheek, as to why he made history Thursday at Citi Field in the Mets’ 1-0 victory over the Reds, becoming the first pitcher in 36 years to deliver a shutout and go deep for the game’s only run.
But it was Mickey Callaway who provided the reason we liked best. The way the manager saw it, Syndergaard finally came to the realization that “enough’s enough.”
“He knows that he had to be better than what he was,” Callaway said.
Hallelujah. We all get so caught up in the minutiae of player performance, every mechanical hiccup, every alibi cited by the managers, that sometimes we forget the answer is staring back at them from the bathroom wall, right above the sink.
There’s no ducking the man in the mirror, and for Syndergaard — along with the rest of the Mets’ ultra-hyped rotation — enough was indeed enough.
They could continue talking about how early it was, or the one bad inning, or the lousy weather conditions. Or they could take the mound and do their job, as Syndergaard did Thursday in dominating the Reds.
He carried a 6.45 ERA into his seventh start, and by the time he was finished, it was down to 5.02. He struck out 10, but this wasn’t about the numbers.
With everything that goes into being Noah Syndergaard — the Thor nickname, the Game of Thrones bobblehead, the signature blond ’do — it was time to put up or shut up. Substance has to vault past style for Syndergaard to help propel the Mets where they want to go this season, and it had to begin happening now.
“Yeah, I felt like I was pretty close to rock bottom,” he said. “So it was kind of an adapt-or-die situation. And it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Maybe so, but the responsibility is still there, as it is for every member of the Mets’ rotation, a group that had been underachieving before this last turn through. Despite this team’s offensive upgrades, the Mets’ chances of being a serious playoff contender primarily reside with the starting staff. And with the exception of Steven Matz, none of them had been performing up to his potential during the season’s first month.
But that changed in the past five days. Syndergaard’s gem punctuated the most impressive stretch by the rotation, which is pitching to a 1.83 ERA with nine walks and 29 strikeouts (in 34 1⁄3 innings) since Matz took the mound Sunday. The Mets also got what they desperately hoped for in the pair of back-to-back rebound starts by Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, with the latter providing seven scoreless innings in Wednesday night’s 1-0 loss to the Reds.
Regardless of the Mets’ public stance, there was anxiety building around deGrom. The reigning Cy Young winner hadn’t looked like himself for a month, with a 9.69 ERA and a 1.103 OPS to show for his previous three starts. There also was the not-so-small matter of the IL stint thanks to elbow soreness, which deGrom quickly dismissed but was burned into the psyche of the Metsville population.
When Wednesday arrived, deGrom, weary of being mediocre, finally corrected what was wrong. He talked postgame about fixing where he stood on the rubber and making other adjustments. But we prefer to think that deGrom just got fed up, like Syndergaard, and pushed himself to be great again. And Syndergaard, after witnessing deGrom’s return to form, did what every No. 2 should aspire to — not just win but conquer the friendly in-house competition.
“Absolutely,” Sydnergaard said. “Individually, we all try to push one another, try to be the best pitcher we can be. We’re always out there supporting one another, trying to learn from each other, and I think things are just now starting to click with us and we’re really going to hit a run.
“I struggled the last month, all of our starters struggled a little bit. And I think this is where it starts to take a turn.”
The Mets could use the boost, from all of them. Syndergaard’s second homer this season supplied the team’s only run in two games, and with the bullpen a mess, he made sure Callaway didn’t have to navigate his way through a late-inning minefield.
“Somebody was going to have to do something special,” Callaway said. “Noah stepped up and got that done.”
No excuses, no alibis. For the Mets’ rotation, it’s about time.
The Mets’ starters finally got their act together in the most recent turn through the rotation:
Innings 34 1⁄3
Earned Runs 7