By: Paul DiSclafani
KANSAS CITY: Noah Syndergaard struck out nine batters over six shutout innings and Neil Walker hit a 2-run home run as the Mets (1-1) get a split in their two game season opening series against the World Champions, shutting out the Royals (1-1), 2-0. The Royals received their Championship rings in a ceremony before the game, but they couldn’t touch Syndergaard or the Mets bullpen as they struck out 12 times.
Syndergaard (W, 1-0) was dominant against the pesky Royals, allowing just three hits and walking one, mixing a fastball in the high 90’s (hitting 100 a number of times) with breaking pitches in the low 80’s, including a nasty slider. The Royals, a team that was #1 in baseball last year in not striking out (averaging just 6.0 per game), looked totally befuddled by Syndergaard’s pitch selection and placement.
With all the talk leading up to this game surrounding Syndergaard’s first pitch in Game 3 of the World Series that sailed over Alcides Escobar’s head and set the tone for the Mets only World Series win, Escobar got his revenge by legging out a leadoff triple in the first inning. But with the crowd at a fevered pitch and screaming for blood, Syndergaard calmly reached back and struck out Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain swinging before freezing Eric Hosmer with a 3-2 back door slider that hit 95 on the radar gun, to end the threat.
“I pretended that the runner wasn’t on third base”, Syndergaard said about trying to tune out the crowd, “and Travis (d’Arnaud, the Mets catcher) and I used that to our advantage. But I had never thrown a 95 mph slider before”.
Syndergaard then settled down and got the next 12 straight. Meanwhile, the also very tall Chris Young (L, 0-1) was cruising along against his ex-teammates, keeping them hitless for the first three innings. But he walked Yoenis Cespedes to lead off the fourth and after Lucas Duda flied out, Walker hit a home run into the wind down the right field line (390 feet) for his first HR as a Met and giving them their first lead of the new season, 2-0.
Kendrys Morales broke Syndergaard’s streak leading off the fifth, doubling to deep center, but once again, Syndergaard was up to the task. He struck out Alex Gordon (his third K) and Salvador Perez swinging before inducing Omar Infante into a tapper back to the mound.
In the sixth, Syndergaard needed to get six outs instead of the traditional three as the Mets failed to turn double plays on consecutive at bats (instead settling for force outs) after Reymond Fuentes struck out to start the inning on another slider in the dirt, but reached first on the wild pitch. Cain then singled and Hosmer walked on four pitches to bring up Morales with the bases loaded.
Knowing that this was his last batter, Syndergaard wasted no time, striking out Morales on three unhittable sliders as the Royals RBI leader last year (106 of them) whiffed on each and every one of them.
“We had the bases loaded in the sixth and he threw Morales a 95, 93 and 93 mph slider that there is not a man on this earth I believe could hit any of those pitches,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I even asked George (Brett), `Do you think you could even foul any of those off?’ and he said, `No way.”
The Mets had chances in both the seventh and eighth innings to tack on runs, but failed each time. With the bases loaded in the seventh, Luke Hochevar struck out Cespedes. In the eighth, Duda and Walker led off with singles, but Kelvin Herrera struck out Michael Conforto and Asdrubal Cabrera before getting Travis d’Arnaud to ground out, ending the inning.
That left it to the Mets revamped bullpen, which was just spectacular. Jim Henderson, the former Brewers closer making his Mets debut, pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, getting two strikeouts. Henderson was a last-minute decision to come north with the club. Addison Reed followed and needed just 8 pitches to complete a 1-2-3 eighth, setting up Jeurys Familia with his first save opportunity of the season.
Familia (S, 1), who blew three saves against the Royals in the World Series, struck out Cain leading off the ninth, then retired Hosmer and Morales on one pitch apiece to get the save.
And just like that, all is right with the world again for Mets fans.
UP NEXT: The Mets have two consecutive days off before the home opener at Citi Field on Friday afternoon, where they start a three game series against the Phillies. Jacob deGrom is scheduled to start the opener, but with his wife about to give birth to their first child, either Steven Matz or Bartolo Colon will start instead. Matt Harvey, who started on Sunday, is also a possibility on his regular four days rest.
POSITIVES: The bullpen allowed just one hit in 5.1 shutout innings in the two games … Walker had two hits and has drive in three of the Mets five runs this season … Juan Lagares had a hit as a pinch hitter … David Wright got his first hit of the year and stole two bases. He leads the National League in steals … Syndergaard (6′-7″) and Young (6′-10″) measure almost 14 feet high combined
NEGATIVES: Mets were 0-7 with RISP and left nine on base … d’Arnaud is still looking for his first hit …