Thor's pitch to Escobar turns up heat in Series
On purpose or not, Syndergaard's near miss of shortstop fires up KC's clubhouse
NEW YORK -- It was a pitch that meant nothing. Or maybe it meant everything. All we know for sure is that it was the superior source of discussion in the wake of Friday's Game 3 of this World Series, and it will be a point of interest from this point forward.
I'm talking, of course, about Noah Syndergaard's too-high, too-tight high-and-tight pitch to Alcides Escobar to open the third installment of this Fall Classic. Given Escobar's well-documented penchant for swinging at the first pitch, the game plan was understandable. But the execution was questionable, and it got the Royals royally hot and bothered.
"It's wrong," Escobar said.
"It was weak," Alex Rios chimed in.
"Very weak," added Eric Hosmer. "I thought it was unprofessional."
So, yeah, Kansas City was definitely talking about that pitch long after Mike Moustakas barked his last expletive at Syndergaard from the dugout. Problem is, the Royals didn't do nearly enough talking with their bats and Yordano Ventura didn't do nearly enough silencing with his arm. Escobar's first-inning at-bat, which resulted in a strikeout, had absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the game.
You wonder, though, if it will have any bearing on the outcome of this Series, which resumes with Game 4 on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).
Syndergaard brought both bad blood and bulletin-board material into the proceedings not with the pitch itself, but with his defense of it.
"If they have a problem with me throwing inside," he said, "then they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away. I've got no problem with that."
So instead of quelling the issue, Syndergaard exacerbated it. The Mets are going to keep coming inside on Royals hitters, because that's how you have to attack such an aggressive contact-oriented club. You have to make them uncomfortable.
But now we've got a Fall Classic in which relations are uncomfortable, too, and that adds a different layer of captivation to the matchup.
Kansas City, you might have noticed, has developed a pattern of poor relations with its opponents this season. The Royals are old-school that way, maybe even enjoyably so. A chip on the shoulder, you could argue, is a strength of this team. It's what fueled them when PECOTA, for one, projected them to win just 74 games on the heels of last year's American League pennant, and it's what they hope continues to fuel them now.
That said, while Syndergaard's postgame thoughts weren't exactly cordial, Kansas City's overall reaction to this particular pitch probably rates on the excessive side of the scale. I, for one, find it very difficult to believe Syndergaard's plan was to nail the leadoff hitter in the head and give the Royals a freebie on the basepaths at the outset of the game. This wasn't a retaliation effort, but a territorial one. Syndergaard wanted to establish the inner part of the plate against a guy having an insane October. That he had said he'd come into this outing with a master plan does not necessarily signal intent to concuss or decapitate.
Problem is, Syndergaard is a 23-year-old kid undoubtedly amped up by the occasion, and sometimes young pitchers have trouble controlling their fastball and their emotions simultaneously.
"That's the first time I've ever seen him throw the ball over the catcher's head," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He might have been a little amped up. I know that one of the things we try to do with leadoff hitters is try to get the ball in on him a little bit better, and I think Noah wanted to get it in, but I think he just overthrew it."
The Royals were generally dismissive of this theory, acknowledging its possibility, but subjecting it to scrutiny.
"It's the only mistake he made all night," Hosmer said.
That's not exactly true, because Syndergaard did have some early command issues in this start that were sorted out with an in-game mechanical adjustment. He began controlling all his pitches better as the outing evolved, and that's how he was able to retire 12 in a row from the last out of the second inning to the second of the sixth.
But whatever. Analyzing intent and sorting through reaction can be a study in futility in this sport. We're spinning our wheels if we're going to spend a tremendous amount of time debating and deliberating over a pitch of such little significance on the scoreboard.
The pitch does matter, however, in what it does to Kansas City from this point forward. Seeking retaliation on this stage would be stupid for a variety of reasons, most prominent of which is the simple fact that allowing free baserunners is bad. But using Syndergaard's remarks the way they've used previous slights this season? Now you're talking … instead of just talking.
On Friday night, the Royals did too much literal talking. Their bats fell flat, and Ventura -- the formerly excitable pitcher who incited plenty of in-game inflammation earlier this year -- came up empty. It happens.
But now we'll see what happens in the wake of the pitch that was both totally inconsequential and plenty controversial.