It’s Halloween weekend in Gotham, and the World Series is finally back in Flushing, Queens.
Fans donned blonde wigs and Viking horns to Game 3 on Friday, a motley bunch wielding plastic hammers and bright orange towels to celebrate a golden-locked pitcher called Thor. That’s the 6-foot 4-inch rookie Norseman Noah Syndergaard, one of the New York Mets’ young starting pitchers with the look and personality to match the city’s most colorful and circus-like borough.
It’s been 15 years since the New York Mets last won the National League pennant. But for many within the largest crowd ever at Citi Field, the team’s confines since 2009, confidence abounds that October baseball could come to Queens more than just once-or-twice-a-decade, ending the regular-season futility of most the teams since the franchise was founded in 1962.
Because with all the unlikely and unexpected story lines of the team of 2015, the most important by far have been the potentially myth-making superhero memes emerging for the Mets young starters, some of the hardest throwers in the game. It’s a truism in baseball that long-term success is built around starting pitching, and the Mets may just have, arm for arm, the most talented young group in recent memory.
True, the Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, couldn’t protect a two-run lead in Game 1 in Kansas City on Tuesday, a 14-inning 5-4 loss. Then, the Degrominator, last year’s National League rookie-of-the-year with his own trademark locks, Jacob de Grom, short circuited in a 4-run fifth in Wednesday’s 7-1 Royals rout.
Battle-tested and hungry, these Royals, last year’s runners up and the most difficult team to strike out for the past four years running, brought their relentless small-ball style and maddeningly timely hitting to thwart the Mets vaunted strikeout pitching and rush to a 2-0 series lead.
“We’ve been getting outplayed,” said Met’s 3rd baseman David Wright after the Mets’ 9-3 win on Friday. “Offensively we’ve been getting outplayed, and pitching-wise. So it’s nice to be able to come and strike early tonight.” The Mets victory cuts the Royals series lead to 2-1 heading into Saturday’s game on Halloween
Wright – or Captain America for wags continuing the meme – drove in four runs during the game, including a first-inning two-run home run that gave his team the lead. This was the most in the World Series by a Met since Rusty Staub, another Met known for his shaggy-red mane, drove in five in 1973.
But the storylines of 2015 will, win or lose, be long remembered in Mets lore. In early July, the Mets were 41-41 and one of the worst hitting teams in the league, held up only by these young starters.
Then, the on-field tears of shortstop Wilmer Flores, who thought he’d been traded from the only organization he’s ever known; the crucial spot-on trades that transformed one the league’s most anemic offenses into one of the league’s best, led by Yoenis “Superman” Cespedes, acquired at the trade deadline at the end of July; the historic post-season home run tear by second-baseman David Murphy, even though he’s cooled a bit during the Fall Classic.
And the National League champions got some of their swagger back Friday after two tough losses in Kansas City, after sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
The 23-year-old Syndergaard started the game buzzing Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar, who has set a franchise record with 21 hits in the 2015 post-season, throwing a high and tight 98-mph fastball that knocked the Venezuelan shortstop to the ground.
"My intent on that pitch was to make them uncomfortable, and I feel like I did just that," Syndergaard said after the game. "I think in every postseason game that Escobar has played in, he's swung at the first-pitch fastball. I didn't think he would want to swing at that one."
The Royals, however, were furious. "When one of your teammates gets thrown at his head, it's not going to go over well," said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer after the game. "I think everyone was upset about it...You file it away. We're trying to win a world championship. That's the ultimate goal. I think the game just has a way of making all that stuff take care of itself."
The Royals scored 3 runs early off Syndergaard, who struck out six in six innings and gave up 3 earned runs in the Mets’ win.
"I mean, I certainly wasn't trying to hit the guy, that's for sure,” continued the Met’s starter, who told reporters on Thursday that he had “a few tricks up my sleeve.” “I just didn't want him getting too comfortable. If they have a problem with me throwing inside, then they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away. I've got no problem with that."
On Halloween, the Mets will send Long Island native Steven Matz to the mound, another hard throwing rookie lefthander who has had just a few major league starts this year – and yet to find his own superhero meme. Matz began the post-season this year with the second fewest starts of any pitcher in history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But as the intensity between the teams ratchets up another level after Syndergaard’s high and tight first-inning pitch, the Mets are hoping to continue to turn this series around.
“You’re talking about a select group of New York Mets teams that this team will now be mentioned with,” said team captain Wright, after the team won the pennant last week. “I can’t tell you how excited I am for that, how proud I am of that. To be able to be a part of this group and the history that this team is making — incredible.”