It was at its core a mundane chore, no different from doing dishes. Any middle reliever would simply cross off such a task with little fanfare. But there is no such thing as ordinary when 101 mph bolts of thunder appear from behind a mop of golden locks.
Noah Syndergaard tossed a scoreless seventh inning on Tuesday night, protecting a one-run lead. He did it while basking in the appreciation that spilled from the stands in his first appearance since buzzing Chase Utley.
But the moment Syndergaard departed, chaos filled the void, and the bullpen faltered in the Mets’ 6-4 loss to the White Sox.
“We just happened to fall on the day where he turns out to be a reliever,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Just a nice bounce back for us that we could score after that.”
Hansel Robles inherited the same challenge in the eighth, tasked with protecting a one-run lead. But Tyler Saladino ripped a two-run shot that put the White Sox ahead for good.
“I haven’t been able to locate my pitches,” Robles said through a translator. “And I’ve paid the consequences for not locating.”
Closer Jeurys Familia was not available because of his recent heavy workload, forcing manager Terry Collins to reshuffle the deck. So when the eighth rolled around, Addison Reed remained a spectator so he could be held back as the closer.
The White Sox seized upon the opening, putting up three runs in the eighth. The Mets blew a 4-0 lead after the fifth, the largest advantage they’ve squandered this season.
Lefthander Steven Matz had his streak of consecutive winning starts end at seven, even though he departed with a one-run lead in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Syndergaard’s first taste of relief since last year’s NLDS became nothing more than a footnote.
“We’re certainly better than what we’ve done the last week,” Collins said of a bullpen that has rarely faltered this season.
Indeed, Mets relievers have combined for an 8.57 ERA over their last seven games, an inevitable speed bump.
The White Sox began the day in a tailspin, losers of 15 of their last 19 games. It appeared they were in for more. Neil Walker hit a two-run shot in the third, his 13th homer of the season, to give the Mets the 4-0 lead.
But the White Sox trimmed the deficit to one run with a three-run outburst in the sixth.
At his best, Matz works quickly. But in the sixth, he ceded control of the tempo, and it cost him. Instead of slowing down, he sped it up.
Todd Frazier atoned for two errors with a two-run homer. Dioner Navarro knocked out Matz with an RBI single, scoring Saladino, who swiped two bags uncontested.
“This one,” Matz said, “maybe I’ve got to slow myself down sometimes.”
It was Matz’s shortest outing since lasting just 1 1/3 innings on April 11, his first start of the season and the last time he lost a game. His three runs allowed were also the most since that awful beginning, in which he gave up seven runs.
In the process, Matz lost his 19-inning scoreless streak. Yet, he departed with his team in the lead.
Syndergaard immediately electrified the crowd. Though he denied that his pitch to Utley had been intentional — as is custom for pitchers — it was clear from the standing ovation that his action was taken as retribution.
Chants of “No-ah! No-ah! No-ah!” went up during a relief appearance made possible only because Syndergaard was ejected without warning on Saturday after only 34 pitches.
By the time Syndergaard walked off the mound, he had thrown 17 pitches, nine of them in triple-digits. His final pitch, a 92 changeup to strike out Frazier, triggered a long roar. But it was the last reason to cheer.
One inning later, the bullpen gate opened and Robles emerged, the first of three relievers that would falter. Citi Field did not get loud again.