KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Perhaps it will be proved one day that Noah Syndergaard is nothing more than a well-oiled cyborg. Then, maybe, some of what transpired Tuesday will make more sense.
But until then, the rest of the National League must wrestle with another uncomfortable possibility, one that may be even more far-fetched. One of the youngest, hardest-throwing, most freakishly talented pitchers in baseball “shocked” himself by getting better.
“I feel like I really took it to the next level because I’ve never thrown a 95-mph slider before,” Syndergaard said after a 2-0 victory against the Royals in which he tested the boundaries of possibility.
Fastballs aren’t supposed to crackle in the high 90s all game long and sliders aren’t supposed to sizzle at 95 mph. Yet despite a hostile crowd and the threat of a dangerous lineup, Syndergaard spent his afternoon inspiring unadulterated hyperbole.
For instance, Pitch F/X charted Syndergaard’s hardest slider at a mere 93 mph. But the point remained: He operated on another plane.
“That’s Nintendo right there,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said of Syndergaard, who struck out nine in six innings. “It’s ridiculous.”
This was no video game cheat code. This was real life, with real complications, none of which seemed to matter to the righthander. There was chatter of hard feelings and retaliation, stemming from Syndergaard’s purpose pitch above the head of Alcides Escobar in last year’s World Series. Boos cascaded down from the stands at Kauffman Stadium.
“I’ve never been known to be a guy that’s hated,” Syndergaard said. “I just kind of thought it was funny and went about my business.”
Neil Walker lined a two-run shot in the fourth inning off Royals starter Chris Young for the only runs of the game. Jim Henderson tossed a perfect seventh in his Mets debut. Addison Reed set up closer Jeurys Familia, who dispensed with some World Series ghosts of his own. It capped a perfect three innings for the bullpen.
The Mets escaped their World Series rematch with not only a split, but also a glimpse of the power and poise that might make Syndergaard the star of a high-octane rotation.
“It’s scary to see what he’s going to become,” Mets first baseman Lucas Duda said.
Standing on the mound only enhanced Syndergaard’s 6-6, 250-pound frame. He looked the part of a villain on enemy ground, his long, blond hair gently nudged by the breeze. Perhaps spotting this, the Royals played “American Woman” as he warmed up in the first.
“They got me on that one,” Syndergaard said. “Normally, I don’t hear that kind of thing, but I took notice to that.”
The reception, however, did little to stop him from throttling the reigning world champions. The Royals were saved by early-season precautions, with Terry Collins pulling Syndergaard after 92 pitches.
“He’s well on his way to being elite status,” said Mets captain David Wright, who was curious to see how long Syndergaard might have gone without the restrictions.
Three times, Syndergaard lifted the lid to the cookie jar, allowing the Royals to move runners to scoring position. Three times, he slammed it shut, emphatically turning back the Royals with weapons he didn’t possess a year ago.
“That’s the bulldog in him,” Collins said.
When Escobar tripled off a 99-mph fastball to begin the game, Syndergaard struck out the next three batters. When Kendrys Morales doubled to start the fifth, Syndergaard struck out two of the next three.
But his best work came in the sixth, when the Royals loaded the bases, then wilted beneath a hail of spring-loaded sliders. Reymound Fuentes whiffed at a slider but reached first when Travis d’Arnaud couldn’t glove it. Then the Mets failed to turn a pair of double-play chances before Syndergaard pitched carefully around Eric Hosmer.
The walk loaded the bases for Morales, one of the most accomplished hitters in the Royals’ lineup. He swung through three sliders.
Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters that “not a man on this Earth that I believe could hit any of those pitches.” He even asked Hall of Famer George Brett if he could have fouled off one of those pitches.
The answer, according to Yost: “No way.”