Saturday, October 31, 2015

World Series: Thor’s Hammer From Brushback Mountain

By Jeff Kallman

Thor swung his hammer right out of the chute. And the New York Mets hammered and tonged the Kansas City Royals to make the World Series an honest-to-God Series again Friday night.

Noah Syndergaard said before Game 3 that he had a trick up his sleeve in store for the Royals. What he really had was an opening argument to deliver. Not in the second inning. Not in the third. Not in the fourth or the fifth. Right out of the chute, top of the first, first pitch. Essentially, the message read thus:

You're getting a little too comfortable at the plate. Especially you, Alcides Escobar, you and your first pitch hacking. And unlike a couple of your guys whom we could name, who liked waiting until whenever to deliver messages when need be, I don't wait until someone else hits a three-run homer two at-bats earlier to send a message that needs to be sent.

There'd be none of that the-ball-slipped-and-the-dog-ate-my-homework jazz afterward, either. Syndergaard knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. He owned it right down to telling any still-fuming Royals after the game that if they wanted to make something of it, by Odin he'd be there waiting 60 feet from the plate.

You could almost say never mind David Wright's thump of a two-run homer in the bottom of the second or his four runs batted in on the night, or his magnificent quick-think tag atop Alex Gordon's helmet in the bottom of the inning. Never mind Curtis Granderson's thump of a 2-run homer in the bottom of the third, to re-take an early lead the Mets lost but wouldn't surrender again.

You could almost say never mind Syndergaard's righting himself after three early Royals runs with a delicious slider Ben Zobrist could only loft to center for the third out in the second, before his hitless third, fourth, and fifth innings, and before his eventual magnificent squirm out of the bases loaded — getting Alex Rios to ground out on another mere slider — to retire the side in the sixth, his final inning's work.

You could even almost say never mind Royals manager Ned Yost's inexplicably bringing in Franklin Morales — a left-handed specialist who's basically the 12th man on an eleven man staff, figuratively speaking — to work the bottom of the sixth, which resulted in a one-out pinch-hit single, a plunk, another pinch-hit single, and a Morales brain vapor that may yet enter World Series lore: he fielded Granderson's bounder back to the box, looked at third, looked at second, like he couldn't make up his mind where to throw, then threw past second to load the pads for Wright-now facing Kelvim Herrera, and drilling a two-run single up the pipe, followed an out later by Yoenis Cespedes's sacrifice fly.

Almost.

Escobar himself unwittingly made it even easier. He looked almost all over the plate side of the batter's box. He's looked that way while swinging at first pitches all postseason long. You can't argue with the results, either. If you didn't know better, Escobar looked comfortable enough to be swinging from a lounge chair with a cocktail by his side.

Then Syndergaard sailed a fastball straight up and in and over his head. Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud played his part perfectly, keeping in his crouch, setting a target middle and slightly inside, not moving even his pinkie until Syndergaard's service sailed up like a fighter jet on a fast takeoff.

Escobar dropped onto his seat in a split second. Citi Field went berserk with glee. "Now that's announcing yourself," said Tom Verducci, the Sports Illustrated writer serving as a FOX Sports television color analyst. "Game on!" In due course, though, Verducci would label Syndergaard "immature" after Syndergaard copped to what he'd done. Not nice.

Mike Moustakas shouted obscenities from the Royals' dugout. Eric Hosmer suggested retaliation in the offing after the game: "We'll find a way to get back at him." Funny. If Syndergaard's opening statement was as weak, unprofessional, stupid, wrong, and perhaps a few other adjectives that usually get bleeped, as enough chirping Royals claimed, the Royals certainly had a funny way of showing it. Surely Syndergaard would have gotten dropped in a heartbeat.

You don't know these Royals very well, do you? They may be fun to watch this postseason but they weren't exactly innocent as babes early in the regular season. Not when Ventura himself saw fit one fine early April Sunday to knock Mike Trout down in the seventh inning ... when the Royals had a seven-run lead en route finishing a weekend sweep.

Not during one late April weekend set with the Oakland Athletics. A set that began when Brett Lawrie plowed Escobar himself with a takeout slide on a double play bid late in the first game of the set. A set that continued with Ventura himself bypassing an early opportunity to send Lawrie a message in favour of drilling him his next time up, two pitches after Josh Reddick hit a 3-run homer, which got Ventura tossed from the game and lightened in the bank account for good measure.

Not during an August set with the Toronto Blue Jays which began with the Royals deciding Josh Donaldson pimped a couple of homers too many, throwing at him three times the following day — after the umps sent the warnings following the first dust. The umps subsequently ejected Jays but not Royals and the Royals behaved afterward as though they'd been the victims.

Sure enough, the only seat Syndergaard experienced Friday night was in the Mets dugout between innings. The Royals had two chances to avenge themselves if they so chose — there was no warning issued after Escobar hit the deck and they could have gotten away with one — and didn't take them. What a surprise. And there probably wouldn't have been a Met in the house who would have argued against any return message.

Not only did Syndergaard and three Mets relievers (Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, and Jeurys Familia, for the record) finally figure out that it doesn't pay to make the strikes too good with these Royals, but the Mets' offense finally figured out it wasn't a half bad idea to measure and go with the pitches you're served — especially against a known inconsistent quantity such as Ventura.

They've got the Game 3 win as evidence. For all the heroics of lots of others in Mets pinstripes you could credit Syndergaard's opening argument for establishing the tone of Friday night's trial.

"It's refreshing to see a current pitcher that answered like an old timer!" tweeted Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. "Thoooorrrrrrrrrrr!!!!"

And anyone who thinks the Royals wouldn't have dropped any leadoff Met to open Game Three if the Mets had been slapping the Royals silly in the first two games from a too-comfortable comfort zone at the plate is thinking through his or her chapeau, and not with his or her head.

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