Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top Billing

Tuesday night at Citi Field was one of those nights that had "All the Makings." You know, Mets back home after a long slog of a road trip, heated division rival in town that they'll be butting heads with all season for supremacy, pair of ace pitchers on the mound, George and I in the stands, return of Daniel Murphy...enough to bring out a September-intense crowd on a Tuesday night in May.

The anticipated duel between Noah Syndergaard and Max Scherzer put enough starch in everyone's collar before anyone even showed up at the ballpark. I, of course, was out there after work and although I was at Mets-Willets Point at 6:40, I wasn't in the ballpark until about 6:59 (that's what the phone-scan ticket tells me), and I figured I'd get something to eat before I went to sit. By this point, I'd already missed the "Welcome Back Daniel Murphy" tribute video because I was on an escalator, and now the starting lineups were being announced as I sidled up to a stand with a short line by 3rd base and ordered. And waited. And waited. And waited some more as the game started and I was still foodless, while a large number of concessionaires ran around throwing french fries at each other. Finally, I got served and was in my seat...just as the top of the 1st was coming to its conclusion.

I'd just settled into my seat when Curtis Granderson drilled Scherzer's first pitch off of the alcove in Right Field for a Home Run. That was a good start, after being mostly quiet on the road and also to get an early run in support of Syndergaard. Ostensibly, in a game like this an early run can be enormously important, considering Scherzer no-hit the Mets the last time he saw them and also considering he struck out 20 batters his last time out. Jumping on him early was important; if for no other reason then to just remind everyone that he can't do that every time out.

Murphy hit for the first time in the top of the 2nd. I'd missed the tribute video but heard the subsequent ovation he was afforded, which I suppose he deserved; for all his foibles and unique interpretation of playing the game of Baseball, he was still a fine Met for a long time and did some good things in important spots. But once the niceties were done, it was down to business, and he's the enemy and when he stepped to the plate in the 2nd he was mostly treated as such. Yes, there were plenty of people standing and cheering, but there were plenty of people giving him the Bonilla treatment. George and I had discussed prior to the game whether to cheer or boo and landed on the Jeff Francoeur "Indifference" greeting. But for whatever reason I felt impelled to clap a little bit after a few seconds. Then, Murphy popped out and all was right in the world.

Things got a little hairy for Syndergaard after that as Ryan Zimmerman doubled and Anthony Rendon singled to put runners at the corners, but as he's made a habit of doing, Syndergaard pitched to the situation instead of muscling up and got Wilson Ramos, who in prior years might have stuck one in the seats, to hit a ground ball directly to Neil Walker in about as easy a DP grounder as you could possibly get.

So, the pitchers duel was on, as it was billed to be, and while the Nationals were nicking Syndergaard, that's pretty much all it was. Outside of that 2nd inning hairiness, Syndergaard allowed 3 other hits, all of them singles that went nowhere. The Mets weren't exactly hitting Scherzer either, but they made what they got count. We'd already seen Granderson go deep and in the 3rd Michael Conforto did the same, lining a pitch into a similar spot to where Granderson's landed to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

With those runs in his pocket, Syndergaard settled in and really started to throw haymakers at the Nationals. In the 4th, Syndergaard got ahead on Bryce Harper and froze him on a 100 mph fastball on the inside corner as the crowd literally howled with delight and I channeled Pedro Martinez. He Kd two more in the 5th and another pair in the 6th, punctuating his inning by striking out Harper again after falling behind 3-0 and having the chutzpah to slip him a Changeup on a 3-1 count. This gave him 10 Ks on the night and two times he caused me to channel Pedro Martinez.

And, well, you want to talk about a statement, how about coming out in the first game of the season against your chief rival and throwing 7 shutout innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts? Syndergaard basically stole the marquee from Scherzer and there wasn't any particular debate about this. After Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia worked clean innings in the 8th and 9th and George and I were heading downstairs amid a Postseason-level human traffic jam in the staircases, the discussion was that Scherzer had a really good bad game, but Syndergaard was great. And I mean Great. I mean, I know that he didn't throw a shutout and I've certainly seen better pitched games, but when you know that a pitcher has to go out and pitch a statement game and he does just that, few things are more enjoyable for me to watch in Baseball. THOOOOOOORRRRRR!!!

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