NEW YORK -- Eleven and a half months had passed since Noah Syndergaard last won a big league game, his life in the interim a slog of waiting and rehab, rehab and waiting. Syndergaard returned from a lat tear last September but didn't pitch much, logging only three innings down the stretch. More waiting came next, through the dead of winter, leading up to the day the Mets would unleash him again.
When it finally happened on a soggy Thursday at Citi Field, Syndergaard became just the second Mets pitcher to strike out double-digit batters on Opening Day, and one of 10 big leaguers to fan at least 10 with zero walks. He wound up with exactly 10 punchouts in a 9-4 Mets victory, holding the Cardinals to four runs in six innings to win his first game since last April.
"It was a great feeling getting out there," Syndergaard said. "I didn't really feel like I missed any time with that injury last year. It was great to go out there and feel the energy that the 7 Line [Army fan section] brings and the Mets fans bring. It just propels me to do a better job."
Punching out Tommy Pham to end the fifth inning, Syndergaard joined Pedro Martinez, who stuck out 12 Reds in 2005, as the only Mets to fan 10-plus batters on Opening Day.
"He was tremendous," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said.
Syndergaard began Thursday's game with a whiff of William Fowler, before striking out five in a row from the second through third innings. Dialing his fastball up to 99.4 mph, he relied heavily on his sinker, also mixing in a changeup, slider and a curveball that dipped as low as 81.8 mph.
Only two Cardinals hitters managed to do lasting damage to Syndergaard: Yadier Molina, who turned on a pitch off the inside corner, clanging it against the left-field foul pole, and Jose Martinez, who finished 3-for-3 off Syndergaard with a solo homer. Afterward, the Mets' resident perfectionist bemoaned letting Martinez "get too comfortable."
"It won't happen again," said Syndergaard, who logged his 12th career double-digit strikeout game.
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A preseason National League Cy Young Award candidate, Syndergaard must prove his durability after pitching only 30 1/3 innings last season. But unlike rotation-mates Steven Matz, who is coming off surgery, and Matt Harvey, who has undergone two operations in his career, Syndergaard sustained nothing more than a muscle tear last season. Revamping his offseason training methods to focus more on mobility and athleticism, he expects to reclaim his spot among the game's best this season.
"I think you're going to hear a lot about our starting pitching this year in a positive manner," outfielder Jay Bruce said. "There's not a lot of times he's going to give up four runs, either."