The whole National League has quivered in his wake. Pitchers want no part of him. When presented the option of fight or flight, the choice this season has been overwhelming. No one has challenged Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.
But if there is one thing that Mets fireballer Noah Syndergaard already has proved, it is that he is not subject to the limits of mortals. So, in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over the Nationals Tuesday night, the righthander used the start of the biggest series of the season thus far to exert his physical dominance.
In his first game with the Nationals at Citi Field, Daniel Murphy received a standing ovation, appreciation for his postseason heroics for the Mets a season ago. But aside from that moment of warmth, the NL East rivals staged a close, tense game, exactly as expected.
No one had an answer Syndergaard, who gave the Mets the dose of brashness they needed after losing four straight and going just 4-7 on their western road trip. The righthander scattered five hits over seven shutout innings. He recorded 10 strikeouts, two of them against Harper, who went 0-for-4.
It was Harper who ended it in the ninth with a groundout to third against closer Jeurys Familia, who nailed down his 13th save.
For the second time this season, leadoff man Curtis Granderson blasted the first pitch he saw in a game over the fence, the opening act on a night in which he reached base four times. Two innings later, Michael Conforto lifted a solo shot of his own, a sign that perhaps he is emerging from his slump.
That’s all that Nationals ace Max Scherzer permitted. After his 20 strikeout game against the Tigers last week, he whiffed 10 Mets in 6 1/3 innings. He lived up to his end of the expected pitchers’ duel with Syndergaard.
But the most telling confrontations involved Syndergaard and Harper, who each have personified the very best aspects of their respective teams.
While Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom have offered reminders of the constant vulnerability of young pitching, Syndergaard has been almost impervious to those red flags, firing triple-digit fastballs at will.
And while the Nationals as a whole have yet to hit their stride, Harper has been a physical force, entering play with 11 homers, 29 RBIs and a league-leading 1.066 OPS. He has been so dangerous at the plate that the league has conspired to simply duck him.
Entering play, Harper drew a league-leading 41 walks in 158 plate appearances. But Syndergaard showed no fear.
In the first inning, Syndergaard challenged Harper with a 100 mph fastball in on the hands, which the slugger weakly grounded up the line for an easy out. In the fourth, Syndergaard threw another 100 mph fastball, this time Harper watched it tail back over the inner half of the plate for a called strikeout.
In the sixth, Harper finally appeared to have Syndergaard’s number, getting ahead of the count 3-0. But the pitcher battled back to a full count before putting away Harper with a filthy slider clocked at 92 mph.
By the end of the night, Syndergaard had thrown 13 pitches of at least 100 mph, including one offering clocked at 101.5 mph. It was the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown in a big-league game.