Noah Syndergaard was on the mound for the Mets, which perhaps qualifies him as my Pitcher du Jour for 2015.
I was uncharacteristically early for this game, so much so that I miscalculated when the gates to Citi Field actually open and somehow ended up stuck waiting outside the stadium. It seems that there are plenty of people that will show up at 4-4:30pm and wait. I was under the impression that the gates opened at 4:40, but it seems this has been changed to 5:10. I'm not sure why. But people do wait, probably because there's just nothing else to do out there, except watch the security guys have a pow-wow, get their metal wands and then at 5:10, their leader yells "OPEN UP!" and everyone springs into action. I got my Free Shirt Friday shirt, I got a Dunkin' Donuts card (which you can surprisingly get a decent return for on the open market), and an opportunity to actually walk around the parts of Citi Field I don't often get to visit since I'm usually making a mad dash to get to my seat before 1st pitch.
Syndergaard has gotten better and better each time I've seen him, which makes sense because he's gotten better and better each time out. At first, he'd been markedly better at home, but his last start, in Los Angeles was great, that on the heels of an outstanding game against Cincinnati (the game I was supposed to be at, but wasn't). This followed a game in Atlanta when he wasn't so hot and got pulled early. Then, the two games I attended, one of which came against Toronto, where he was excellent, but threw too many pitches too early in the game and only lasted 6 innings, and, of course, the night where he ended up on the wrong side of History. He's gotten better as he's gone along; this culminated in his outing tonight, in which he took a very good Diamondbacks lineup and basically crumpled them up like he'd stepped on a beer can and stuck it in his back pocket.
This was the kind of game that really makes you excited about the future of the Mets, at least as far as the pitching is concerned. Syndergaard is obviously one of the guys that the Mets are planning on hanging their hats on going forward, so you want to see how he handles himself when the Big Boys come to town, and although Arizona's record might not indicate as such, their lineup tonight featured 3 or 4 guys hitting over .300, among them hulking slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who's among the league leaders in HR, RBI and eyebrows. But Syndergaard simply overpowered Goldschmidt, striking him out twice and generally making him look silly. Noah treated the rest of the Arizona lineup with similar regard. A.J. Pollock reached him for a leadoff double, stole second and scored on a sac fly in the 1st inning. From there, Syndergaard put on his Matt Harvey pants, got angry and spent the rest of the night lighting the D'Backs on fire to the tune of 4 hits, 2 walks and 13 strikeouts over an 8-inning, 116-pitch effort to finish out his first half with panache.
The Mets bats, who bear but an honorable mention when measured against Syndergaard, gave him the support he needed for once. After breaking their 9-game homerless streak on Wednesday in San Francisco, the Mets continued their longball resurgence by hitting 2 in the 1st inning off Chase Anderson. Lucas Duda, who's gotten himself into some bad habits over the last month, didn't swing at a pair of bad pitches with 2 men on base, got himself into a 2-0 count, and then hit the 2-0 pitch clear to the Apple for his first Home Run in close to a month, giving the Mets a 3-1 lead. Michael Cuddyer followed by working himself into a similar count before basically one-arming a pitch just over the Left Field wall for his first Home Run in about as long. This, of course, upped my personal Home Run total for the season from 3 to 5 and also represented all the scoring the Mets would do on the night. This a far cry from most nights, when the Mets were hard pressed to score 1 or 2 runs, but when you give these pitchers 4 runs to work with, usually they can run with it. Syndergaard got his 4 runs early, was able to settle down and basically took the game from there.
Syndergaard's strength, perhaps, is that he seems to get better as the game progresses. After allowing Pollock's double and a Yasmany Tomas single in the 1st, Syndergaard then allowed Arizona 2 hits for the following 7 innings, a 3rd inning double to Peralta and a 5th inning single by Anderson, but that was about it. After the 5th, though his pitch count was up because he again threw too many pitches in the 1st inning, Syndergaard basically looked like he was toying with the D'back hitters. They weren't catching up with his fastball, and then he would lull them to sleep with his curve and changeup. In the 6th inning, Goldschmidt led off by watching a curve, fouling off a pitch, taking a slider off the plate, and then was completely frozen when Syndergaard zipped a fastball by him for strike 3. The following two batters met similar fates, giving him 10 strikeouts on the night.
In the 7th, Syndergaard struck out two more, giving him a career high 12 strikeouts and earning him a standing ovation as he came off the mound. Certainly, with Mejia and Parnell warming up, he was done, particularly after he'd gone over the magic 100-pitch number. But, then, he's got a week to rest with the All Star Game coming up, and this 6-man rotation seems designed to squeeze an extra inning out of these guys. So, back he came for the 8th, as I started thinking about high-strikeout games I'd attended. I couldn't quite figure out what my best was (and, of course, I had to consult UltimateMets.com for assistance), only that I knew I'd seen Dwight Gooden strike out 14 once, and I know I saw Randy Johnson strike out 13 at one point. The answer was that Gooden does hold my personal best with 14 back in 1991. I did see Randy Johnson K 13 in 2000, in the same game that Joe McEwing raked him all over Shea Stadium. After that, there was Matt Harvey's imperfect game in 2013, when he struck out 12, and then a quartet of 11-K games, one of which was authored by Syndergaard himself.
Syndergaard cruised through the 8th with little drama, save for a 1-out walk that went nowhere, and picked up his 13th strikeout in the process, putting him tied with Johnson for #2 on my strikeout list, and of course providing his own bridge to Jeurys Familia. Familia was reached for one run, if only because Tomas squeaked out an ill-advised triple and scored on a Welington Castillo single, but that was it for Arizona, and the Mets were able to close out a 4-2 victory.