Seven months ago, Noah Syndergaard was the kid in spring training whose lunch plate two veteran teammates felt comfortable tipping into the garbage. Nobody touches his lunch now.
On Sunday, he had the Cubs for lunch, with extra mustard (and a lot of cheese), shutting down Chicago’s powerful lineup for 5 2/3 innings—scoreless, those 5 2/3, until the last batter Syndergaard faced. Against one Cub after the other, he muscled high-90s fastballs safely past, even in dead-red fastball counts. Or he would embarrass them with a low-90s changeup, the Syndergaard equivalent of “I forgot to tell you, I’m not left-handed.”
The Mets would go on to beat the Cubs 4-1 in Game Two of the NLCS, and now lead the series two games to one.
“Gosh, this kid is something special,” David Wright gushed after the outing (and after Syndergaard's very impressive post-lunch-dump season). “Now we’re in the driver’s seat: Worst case, we just need to pick off one game on the road, then obviously lose to Jake Arrieta in Game Six, and it’ll come down to JGrom in the seventh. The way Grommy’s been throwing, I like our chances.”
Wright’s post-game smile suggested the long-suffering Mets captain had gotten a transfusion of Type-O optimism. Wright scored what proved to be the game-winning run after opening the scoring with a double in the first. It was his first hit, and his first run driven in, since the opening game of the NLDS, 16 at-bats before. Mets manager Terry Collins couldn’t help smiling when an on-field reporter mentioned the hit during an in-game interview.
“Oh yeah, David’s starting to feel it, taking a lot better hacks and tracking pitches real well,” Collins said after the game. “For him, it’s just a matter of getting back into that mental space where he thrives. And if he’s hitting, and Murphy and Cespedes keep hitting, and Granderson keeps getting on base like he did tonight, well there’s no reason we can’t win every game in this series except for Game Six.”
Young pitching is never a sure thing, and building around it is, to paraphrase Churchill on democracy, the worst form of franchise building except all the others that have been tried. Syndergaard was, if anything, even more dominant than Matt Harvey was the day before, striking out nine and walking just one Cub. He announced himself early, getting two swinging strikes on the first two pitches of the game, a pair of 98 mph fastballs to Dexter Fowler.
Fowler would be the first Cub to reach scoring position—but not until the sixth inning, by which point the Mets and Syndergaard had a 4-0 lead.
“It was really nice pitching with a lead,” Syndergaard said. “TDarn was just putting down signs and I was locked in with him. Already makes me feel better about taking the loss in Game Six.”
The size of that lead came courtesy of Daniel Murphy, who continued his torrid October with a first-inning, two-run home run. It came on a 1-2 curveball from Arrieta. Batters had hit just .132, and slugged just .250, against the pitch this year.
Of course, what have batters hit against Arrieta this year?
A big fat zilch.
The Cubs’ flame-thrower had the second-lowest second-half ERA in history, and the Cubs had won his previous 15 starts. That the Mets beat him Sunday remains unexplained, though theologians agreed that it was likely a test of our faith.
“We see this all the time in sacred texts,” says Wes Mint, a professor of religious studies at McCall University, hired by MLB to serve as the game’s spiritual-war observer. “The ‘bet’ between Satan and God over Job’s devotion; Satan’s ‘challenge’ to Christ to provide proof of his divinity; and so on. There’s a constant spiritual war between divines to prove or disprove each other’s sacredness, and/or to chip away at the faith of the other’s followers.”
Arrieta went five innings, his shortest outing since June 16th (and, by match, his shortest of the season). He sat at 93 with his fastball, down from 95 in his last start in the NLDS, down from individual starts as high as 96 down the stretch. He struggled to control the running game, giving up a damning insurance run when Curtis Granderson stole not just second against him but third, too. It wasn’t just the radar gun that noticed Arrieta wasn’t quite right; his manager, Joe Maddon, ordered he intentionally walk Murphy in the third, and Maddon had a pitcher warming up in the bullpen the same inning.
Some did begin to express doubts about him—asking him to “prove” his infallibility
This inning is key. Is Arrieta legit gassed or can he bounce back from a rough first? Cubs offense can get 'em back if Jake keeps them in it
or turning their backs on him completely:
— Sean Wachdorff (@Cardsnationjnky) October 19, 2015
But not everybody was so quick to deny Arrieta,
Lot of “Arrieta gassed” tweets. Don’t think there’s a better conditioned pitcher in the game. Once every 5 months or so, guys can be “off.”
and one particularly devout Met didn’t even acknowledge the outcome Sunday.
“We’re going to go out and do what we have to do: Win Tuesday so we can even this series up,” Murphy told reporters. When informed that, actually, the true and factual standing of the series was two games to one Mets, Murphy shook his head and became flustered. “I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says, just because I disagree with the outcome doesn't mean I'm just never going keep trying.” Eventually, confused reporters moved on.
“Don’t worry about Murph,” Tyler Clippard said, after throwing a scoreless inning in the eighth, his second since a rocky first outing in the NLDS. “He’s just confused. Here’s how I see it: Yeah, like duh, no doy, we’re going to lose Game Six. But we should crush them in every other game, because there’s no way they’re going to beat us when we have Kershaw and Greinke on the mound.”
Informed that, in fact, Clippard is on the Mets, not the Dodgers, Clippard looked stricken. “Wait, so the Mets beat the Dodgers? With Kershaw and Greinke? How the **** did that happen?”
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