Noah Syndergaard threw the first pitch of Game 3 where even Alcides Escobar couldn’t swing at it — up, up and in.
Escobar is the Royals’ enigma of a leadoff hitter, who likes to swing at the first pitch, and the second, and the third. But it’s hard even for Escobar to hit the baseball when he’s hitting the dirt.
Syndergaard acknowledged his pitch was purposeful — transparence that can be explained by youth — and said he did it to make the Royals uncomfortable. No way of telling if it did that, but it certainly seemed to make them a bit unhinged.
Josh Donaldson, who ducked a handful of like pitches from the Royals in August, must have been watching with amusement. Because the morality of pitching inside depends greatly on which end of the 60-foot, six-inch tug of war you’re standing.
Escobar said if that was Syndergaard’s plan, “that’s not a good plan,” although the Mets’ 9-3 win said otherwise. You can understand why Escobar, from his position on the ground, might not be enthused about Syndergaard’s tactics.
And Fox analyst Harold Reynolds said he liked the pitch immediately after Syndergaard threw it; three innings later, after the Royals had pelted the pitcher for six hits and three runs, he said it had woken the Royals up. As if they were napping with a 2-0 lead in the Series.
If nothing else, Reynolds is the leading candidate for Joe Theismann’s Flexibility in Broadcasting Award. (Theismann once said he liked a coach’s decision to go for a fourth-and-one, “and I’ll tell you why.” He did so, only to have the team take a timeout, lose its sense of aggression and send out its punt team. As if completely unaware of what he had said before commercial, Theismann said he liked the decision, “and I’ll tell you why.” The man was nothing on the air if not open-minded.)
It wasn’t so much the first pitch Syndergaard threw as the 103 that followed — and his base hit at bat — which revived the intrigue in this Series. The first one, though, will get the credit for the two teams exchanging roles as adroitly as Theismann changed positions. (If the Royals were so aggrieved, you’d think Yordano Ventura would have thrown at Syndergaard, especially with an 0-2 count. But Ventura was an unlikely pacifist Friday.)
If so it wouldn’t be the first time for the Royals. Thirty-five years ago they were on their way to winning Game 4 of the World Series when Dickie Noles threw an 0-2 fastball at George Brett that was much closer and much scarier than Syndergaard’s to Escobar. (Here’s the link, and Noles’ explanation many years later).
Noles got more credit for one pitch than most long relievers do for a career. It’s probably misplaced. The Phillies were three outs from losing Game 5 when they rallied to win a game in which they were outhit 12-7, and Brett had three hits in his final 9 Series at-bats.
The Royals losing the 1980 Series probably had more to do with Willie Wilson’s 4-for-26 than Noles’ pitch.
Likewise Syndergaard’s pitch won’t mean much if the Mets don’t back it up.