SAN FRANCISCO -- Last week in Chicago, the day after a start in which he berated himself for inconsistent mechanics during a "disappointing" season, Noah Syndergaard crept out of the clubhouse early to work on his form. In the shallow outfield grass at Wrigley Field, Syndergaard played a game of catch, slowing things down as he exaggerated every motion.
Oftentimes obsessive about his between-starts routine, Syndergaard now regularly throws two bullpen sessions instead of one -- a tip that he picked up from Jacob deGrom, who in turn copied it from Hall of Famer John Smoltz. But for all the work Syndergaard was doing, his focus, according to Mets manager Mickey Callaway, remained too stiff, too mechanically driven during starts.
That changed Sunday at AT&T Park, where Syndergaard found fluidity in a 4-1 win over the Giants, pitching a two-hitter for the first complete game of his career.
"It looked to me like he went out there and just didn't worry about anything other than throwing the ball over the plate," Callaway said. "Maybe the last couple outings, he's been worried too much about mechanics and internal things, instead of just worrying about where the ball's going. Today, he went out there and the ball went wherever he wanted it to."
Even the run against Syndergaard was hardly his fault. With one out in the third inning, Alen Hanson hit a line drive to right field, where Brandon Nimmo unsuccessfully tried to make a diving catch. The ball skipped past Nimmo and bounced up against the wall, allowing Hanson to reach third with a stand-up triple. The next batter, pitcher Chris Stratton, lofted a sacrifice fly.
If the moment bothered Syndergaard, he did not show it, retiring 11 of the next 12 batters before a Jay Bruce error snapped his streak. At 87 pitches after seven innings, Syndergaard returned for the eighth, striking out a pair while hitting 99 mph on his 100th pitch.
"Sometimes, you have it from the get-go," catcher Tomas Nido said. "From the bullpen and everything, it just looked like he had command of all his pitches, throwing them right where he wanted to."
When Syndergaard re-entered the dugout after the eighth inning, the conversation involved nothing more than a brief check on his status.
"That was it tonight," Callaway said. "He was in such a groove, I felt like he had enough in the tank to keep on going."
Syndergaard then retired the final three batters in order for his first career complete game.
For most of the afternoon, he even pitched with a lead, thanks to Michael Conforto's two-run homer -- his 20th -- off Stratton in the second. Jeff McNeil doubled the Mets' score with a two-run single in the eighth inning, allowing Syndergaard to cruise to his team-high 10th victory -- a mark that was not lost on him, considering his recent assessment that he has spent this season "wasting my ability to throw a baseball."
"I told myself at the end of August that I have a fresh clean slate at the start of September," Syndergaard said. "I took that to heart. I just want to finish the season strong."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rally capper: Clinging to a one-run lead, the Mets put a pair of men in scoring position off Sam Dyson in the eighth when Nido and Amed Rosario singled, then Rosario stole second base. The next batter, McNeil, plated both of them with a single up the middle.
McNeil, who is 2-for-5 in September, recently completed August with 34 hits -- the most by a Mets rookie in a calendar month since Kaz Matsui matched Jose Reyes' franchise record with 39 in July 2004.
Mets pitchers have set a franchise record with double-digit strikeouts in seven consecutive games. They've totaled 83 strikeouts over that stretch, with Syndergaard accounting for 17 of them.
HE SAID IT
"His changeup is the same speed as my fastball." -- Stratton, on Syndergaard (Stratton's average fastball velocity is 91.1 mph, while Syndergaard's average changeup is 90.2.)
The Mets ace, deGrom, will resume his quest for the National League Cy Young Award when he returns to the mound on Monday to open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium. The right-hander, whose 1.68 ERA leads the Majors, will oppose left-hander Alex Wood in the 8:10 p.m. ET game.