NEW YORK -- Noah Syndergaard didn't want to say it, but others did. As May games go, this was a big one for the Mets.
Syndergaard didn't need to say it. You didn't need to hear him. You only had to watch him.
He took control of the first big National League East matchup of the season, and he didn't let go. He took on Max Scherzer. He took on Bryce Harper.
He carried a five-hit shutout through seven innings, and he sent the Mets to a 2-0 win over the Nationals on Tuesday night.
"He's special, man," catcher Kevin Plawecki said. "No stage is too big. No moment is too big. It only gets better."
The stage Tuesday was Citi Field, with a lively crowd attracted by a great pitching matchup and the first 2016 game of an emerging rivalry. The moment was a game the Mets really wanted after a 4-7 trip out west, but a game they had to play without David Wright or Lucas Duda.
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Scherzer was coming off his 20-strikeout game from last week, and he was also facing the Mets for the first time since his Oct. 3 no-hitter. He wasn't at his spectacular best Tuesday, but he was very good.
Syndergaard was better. In seven innings, he struck out 10 and didn't walk a batter. He allowed just one Nationals runner past first base, and he quickly thwarted the only scoring chance with a 99-mph fastball that turned into a double play.
"I think he rises to the challenge," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
He met the challenge of Harper with two strikeouts, including one to end the sixth inning in which he came back from a 3-0 count with a fastball, a changeup and a devastating slider.
"I was just pitching to my strengths," Syndergaard said.
Syndergaard's strengths have been obvious from the time he arrived in the big leagues last May. His fastball hits triple-digits, and his slider reaches the low 90s and can seem unhittable.
The double-digit strikeout game Tuesday was his second in eight starts this season, and his seventh in 32 starts over his young big league career.
His performance in a big game is simply something the Mets have come to expect.
"It always helps when you have a horse you can ride on that mound," Collins said. "We played good, but we pitched great."
It wasn't just Syndergaard. When he left the mound after seven innings, Addison Reed followed with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Jeurys Familia did his part with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The tone had already been set, and it was set by the 6-foot-6 kid from Texas.
"We had a good game plan," Plawecki said. "We kept them off balance, and we worked in and out."
As Plawecki said, it's fine to talk about pitching inside, but the pitcher still needs to execute the pitch. Syndergaard did just that, especially with the dangerous Harper.
"Just trying to make it unpredictable," Syndergaard said. "Trying to make them uncomfortable."
He may have made the Nationals uncomfortable, but on a big day at the start of a big series, he made the Mets and their fans as comfortable as could be.
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