NEW YORK -- The dust-up between Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and Jose Fernandez of the Marlins didn't disappoint Tuesday on another brisk night at Citi Field.
Neither of the young right-handers were around at the end of a game the Marlins won, 2-1, but each gave his club a real chance to win, which is all anyone can ask.
They left with the score tied, 1-1, Fernandez allowing just three hits in five innings and Syndergaard seven in his seven.
• Syndergaard a terrifying hitter's nightmare
"It's a lot of fun just going out there and competing," said Syndergaard, who's allowed one earned in his first 13 innings of 2016 for a scant 0.69 ERA. "Being that it's the best against the best, I just go out there and give it everything I've got, 100 percent in between the lines, and pray for the best."
The pitcher the Mets call "Thor" won the personal battle, striking out 12, including the Marlins' side twice in the second and the fifth innings. It was the sixth time in his 26 starts since reaching the Majors for good last May that Syndergaard has hit the double-digit mark in strikeouts.
Both pitchers are 23 years old and are emblematic of the great young players right now who have proliferated the Major League level.
"You know the guy is going to go out there and he's going to do exactly what I'm trying to do," Fernandez said about Syndergaard. "You've got to battle with him. You know his stuff is really, really good. He pitched, obviously, really good. But these are the games that bring your team together, more and more every time. Having these wins against good pitchers, good teams is very important for us."
Fernandez answered by striking out the side as well in the bottom of the fifth, and he had five in all. He settled down after working out of the first two tough innings while allowing minimal damage. Unfortunately for Fernandez, he expended 51 of the 90 pitches he threw, working out of twin jams in the first two innings.
Yoenis Cespedes opened the third by skying a long shot to left field that got hung up in the cold crosswinds. Christian Yelich caught it with his back pressed up against the blue outfield fence near the 358-foot mark.
Syndergaard had trouble in only one inning, the fourth. As fate would have it, the run he allowed was on a base hit by Derek Dietrich. The left-handed hitter beat the shift by punching the ball past third baseman David Wright, the lone body at that moment on the left side of the infield.
But that's the way things are going right now for the Mets, who have opened 2-5 and head out on a nine-game road trip to Cleveland, Philadelphia and Atlanta after Wednesday's finale of three-game series here against Miami. New York is on a four-game losing streak, with a pair of losses each coming from the National League East-rival Phillies and Marlins, who were universally picked by experts to finish well below them.
The Mets have scored six runs in the four losses, and on Tuesday night, they didn't take advantage of Syndergaard's second terrific outing of the still-young season. There's always drama around the Mets, manager Terry Collins said. And with expectations at their zenith after a five-game loss to the Royals in the World Series, the drama ratio right now has been turned up more than a notch.
"I mean, it is here. It's drama here," Collins said. "It's not drama in Milwaukee. It's not drama in Houston. I saw the other day that the Cardinals were in last place and I didn't hear anybody saying they should cut the season off. Here, there are expectations you have to live up to and that's on a daily basis."
The Mets fell shy of those expectations, scoring off Fernandez in the first inning on a leadoff double by Curtis Granderson, who snapped an 0-for-20 slump, and later scored on a Lucas Duda single. But in that inning, the Mets stranded runners on first and third and had another thrown out at second base.
In the second inning, the Mets had the bases loaded with two out when Wright popped out to right on a full-count pitch. That began a sequence of 10 batters Fernandez set down in a row before manager Don Mattingly threw in the towel.
"He's just good, he's real, real good. He's got great stuff," Collins said about Fernandez, who returned last July after missing 14 months because of Tommy John surgery. "It's like all the good pitchers, if you don't get them early, sometimes you don't get them.
"We were sitting on the bench talking about it when we had our opportunities in the first two innings. We got him deep into pitch counts and had a chance to score some runs. When you don't, you say, 'This may not turn out good.'"
It didn't for the Mets. But for the 3-3 Marlins, they are at the .500 mark for the first time since last May 2, when Miami was 12-12. There's been a lot of losing and the Marlins are on their third manager since then. But it may be a new day in South Florida.
"It's great that this is the team we have," Fernandez said. "We have a team that is not going to give up. It's going to get after it. This is all we can ask for. We're not giving up any innings. We're not giving up any outs. This is what's going to make this team special."
Perhaps like the two kids who started on Tuesday night -- something very special.