When Noah Syndergaard’s first pitch buzzed past the head of leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar to start last night’s third game of the World Series, old school baseball men like Bob Gibson smiled. Gibson will be 80 next month and when he does a rare radio appearance he still sounds like the “ornery fella” he says he is. Hank Aaron said of him “He’d knock down his own grandmother.” Jim Bouton said that of Sal Magley, who along with Don Drysdale was smiling down from Baseball Heaven as Escobar took evasive action. I can think of a couple of things Escobar was muttering to himself concerning Syndergaard, and even though they’re in Spanish I won’t write them in a family column.
With his very first pitch Syndergaard sent the message “We’re still here,” to the Royals, and his teammates backed him up with their bats in a 9-3 win. The Royals still lead 2 games to 1 but Mets’ fans took heart while watching last night’s performance. The Royals scored in the first in spite of Syndergaard playing chin music for Escobar. After he struck out, Ben Zobrist hit a long double to center and Lorenzo Cain reached on an infield hit. Eric Hosmer drove in the one run they got that inning, reaching on a fielder’s choice. Cain was called out on the play taking the steam out of the Royals’ rally. The Mets’ response was immediate off Royals starter Yordano Ventura. After an infield hit to lead off by Curtis Granderson, the slumping David Wright broke out in a major way by unloading a mammoth home run into the teeth of the wind blowing to left. The Royals, who believe Ventura is better than Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, their other Dominican starters tried their level best to support him. Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Alex Rios all singled resulting in a tie game. On Rios’ single, runner Gordon was thrown out at third which limited the damage. After Ventura sacrificed Rios to third, a wild pitch scored what would be the Royals’ last run. Escobar followed that with a single. Up to now, six hitters of their first 10 had gotten base hits and without two of them being thrown out on the bases the Mets would have been in real trouble. From that point however, only one Royals’ batsman would get a hit the rest of the night, and the Mets were just beginning their assault. Ventura pitched into the third holding a 3-2 lead. Then Syndergaard led off the home third with a single to right. That brought up the top of the Mets’ order Curtis Granderson who hit one down the right field line. We had to wait to know if it were fair or foul, but it was fair and good for a two-run home run and a 4-3 Mets lead. Ventura got the next 3 men he saw, but Syndergaard had the Royals in full lockdown mode by then. The bottom of the fourth would prove to be Ventura’s Waterloo. Lucas Duda led off with a single to left, followed by a D’Arnaud double right down the leftfield line. Had he put it into one of the cavernous gaps in the Citi Field outfield Duda might have scored right then. As it was, it took an infield single by Michael Conforto, just his second hit of the postseason to give the Mets a 5-3 lead. I thought Ventura was finished then and there. He got Wilmer Flores, and with the pitcher coming up Ned Yost the Royals manager took out his starter in favor of Danny Duffy from the bull pen. He got the two men he saw. In the American League, with its designated hitter rule Duffy could well have continued pitching. Yost however saw the need to hit for him leading off the fifth. He did it with Raul Mondesi, who put his name in the record book as the first player to make his major league debut in the World Series. Syndergaard retired Mondesi like the AA player he is, on a swinging strikeout. He also got the next two Royals with an assist to Granderson who made a neat running catch at the 380-foot mark in right center. Luke Hochevar pitched a scoreless fifth for Kansas City. In the visiting sixth the Royals mounted their last stand, and even that was a gift from the home team. Mike Moustakas reached on what was scored a hit but both radio and TV commentators said could have been an error to Daniel Murphy. Seemingly distracted by the infield play behind him, Syndergaard walked the next two men he saw. But with two pitchers warming up in the bull pen Syndergaard pulled it together for the last time and got Alex Rios to ground out to short ending the inning.
What happened next, I thought was Ned Yost’s second head scratching decision. Instead of leaving Hochevar in to pitch the sixth and hitting for him in the 7th, he turned to Franklin Morales, a 29-year-old from Venezuela whose pitching over the years has been erratic at best. He was at his worst against the Mets. After retiring D’Arnaud he gave up a single to pinch hitter Juan Lagares replacing Conforto. He then hit Wilmer Flores with a pitch-yes, he hit a batter who hasn’t driven a run home since early September. For the first time this postseason we saw Juan Uribe who had bruised his chest in September. He came up in place of Syndergaard. Of Joe DiMaggio, a writer once said “That guy could get out of bed on New Year’s Morning and get hits.” While no Joltin’ Joe, Uribe is a professional hitter and showed it by singling home Lagares after not seeing a pitch thrown with intent for more than a month. The last batter Morales saw was Curtis Granderson, and the next play was one of the more bizarre plays you’re liable to see a pitcher make outside of a Little League. Granderson grounded right back to Morales. Runner Flores stood on third. Morales froze for a vital second, looking for all the world like a deer in a set of headlights. He looked to every base, then air-mailed a throw to second. Had he reflexively thrown to second at once his mates could have turned a double play. Instead the Mets had the bases full. Exit Morales, enter Kelvin Herrera. As good as he is, this wasn’t his night. David Wright who had 3 RBIS the entire postseason hit a 2-run single, giving him 4 in this game alone and making it 8-3 Mets. His heroics reminded longtime New York fans of an injured Don Mattingly, who knew his career was done having the series of his life against the Seattle Mariners in the very first ALDS in 1995.
From there the Mets cruised home with the help of Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia from their bull pen. When interviewed in the media room after the game, Syndergaard was told Escobar hadn’t been pleased with his purpose pitch to open the game. To which, with the elan you’d expect from a guy whose state slogan is “Don’t Mess with Texas,” Syndergaard said “If he has a problem he can meet me, I’m 60 feet 6 inches away.” Beautiful. I can hear Bob Gibson cheering. Now it’s up to the Mets’ hitters and their one lefty starter Steven Matz to keep the momentum going and even the series if they can. To prevent this, the Royals turn to Chris Young, who played his college baseball and basketball at Princeton. He’s just shy of 7 feet tall, the tallest pitcher the game has seen. But he’s not scary looking like Randy Johnson was. After Ventura’s 100 MPH stuff last night, Young might top out at 90 perhaps. The same can be said of Matz, who is the Mets’ young phenom against an older journeyman who once wore orange and blue when he took the hill. The excitement is back in this World Series.0