Pitching remains key as Mets eye rebound
KANSAS CITY -- The Mets rode their superb young pitching to the World Series, but after two tough losses to the relentless Royals, they head to New York hoping to reverse the unexpected predicament they find themselves in.
After Thursday's travel day, the best-of-seven World Series resumes on Friday night at Citi Field (air time at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, game time at 8 p.m). It will be up to rookie right-hander Noah Syndergaard, another of the Mets' phenoms who carried them to the National League pennant, to stop the bleeding.
Syndergaard will be opposed by Kansas City flamethrower Yordano Ventura.
For the Mets it was supposed to be all about pitching, pitching and more pitching.
"You're not going to believe how good our young arms are -- and can be," manager Terry Collins often said as New York was returning to the World Series for the first time since 2000.
Now, there's obvious concern in the Mets' camp after coming up empty, first in Game 1 on Tuesday night when Matt Harvey failed to get past the sixth inning as the Royals went on to win, 5-4, in 14 electrifying innings.
Harvey was finished after giving up three runs in six innings. He had thrown just 80 pitches, but said he lacked his good stuff. Harvey's fastball averaged below 94 mph for only the third time in his career.
And as a testament to the Royals' approach, they swung and missed just seven times.
Wednesday night in Game 2, Kansas City jumped on ace Jacob deGrom and the Mets' bullpen for what amounted to a variable rout, a 7-1 triumph.
So now, it's off to New York.
If the Mets are concerned, they have a right to be. This is the 54th time a team has taken a 2-0 lead in the World Series, and of the previous 53, 42 have gone on to win the championship.
For the Mets to turn the tide, they must take a chapter from their 1986 team which overcame an 0-2 deficit to beat Boston in a historic Fall Classic, marking the club's last championship.
"You've still got to win four games," a subdued deGrom said late Wednesday night. "We're going home. We like playing there. So hopefully we can win three games there.
"I felt like my stuff was good; I just wasn't locating very well."
When deGrom took the field Wednesday night, he was 3-0 in this postseason, with a 1.80 ERA over 20 innings -- and 27 strikeouts. He struck out only two on Wednesday night and walked three.
In his first postseason start, deGrom punched out 13 Dodgers, tying Hall of Famer Tom Seaver's franchise record.
This is revealing: Against the Royals there were just three swings and misses against deGrom, and none were on fastballs.
"I wasn't really surprised by it, because we knew that going in," deGrom said. "Early on, pitch count was staying pretty low, because I knew they were going to be attacking."
As the World Series opened, both teams appeared evenly matched.
The Royals have built their reputation on making contact, not striking out much and putting the baseball in play. The Mets, who swept the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series, figured their outstanding pitching would counter Kansas City's bats.
The Royals rarely swing and miss
"We win because we ride our starting pitching," said Collins. "When they struggle, we're going to struggle, and that's what's happened."
On deGrom, Collins said: "He was throwing the ball great, and all of a sudden in the fifth inning, there was a walk [to Alex Gordon], and then the next thing you know, they start single, single, single."
In previous starts, deGrom has been able to work out of trouble, but it didn't happen this time.
Collins said he was sitting there thinking, "He's going to get out of this. This is where he'd going to put this guy away, but he didn't."
If the Mets are to rebound, their pitchers are going to have to adjust to Kansas City's approach.
The Royals' patience at the plate is uncanny. They have the ability to adjust the third time their batting order faces a pitcher.
That's what young Syndergaard has to be thinking on Friday night.
"We just don't swing and miss," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "We put the ball in play, and we find ways to just keep putting the ball in play until you find holes."
In the first two games, as the Royals cycled their batting order the second and third times, it was obvious how their hitters made adjustments.
"They're really, really good," said Collins. "That's what you tell every hitter who plays the game. We've just got to make quality pitchers or they're going to gets hits."
The Mets manager said that's what he told deGrom, and he said will reiterate the same thing prior to Friday night's game.
"[The Royals] did exactly what people said -- they put the ball in play," Collins said. "I told Jake, 'Not everything has to be a strike. You've got to move the ball around. You've got to change speeds, give them something to look at. If you continue to pound the strike zone, they're going to put it in play.' And that's what they did."
For the Mets to get back in this chase, their hitting also has to improve.
Wednesday night, Johnny Cueto pitched the first complete game in the World Series by an American League pitcher since Jack Morris did it in 1991, and Cueto's gem was the first complete-game two-hitter since Greg Maddux in 1995.
"Yeah, we're not hitting," said Collins. "It just shows you right now with us not hitting how big Dan Murphy really was in the NLCS with all those home runs."
And how the Mets' pitching backed him up.