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Syndergaard brings big heat, big fun

Thor hits 101 mph, freezes Altuve in matchup with World Series champs
MLB.com @MikeLupica

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- So this was Noah Syndergaard after his first Spring Training start, with the great Justin Verlander as the opposing pitcher and George Springer and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and Marwin Gonzalez in the Astros' batting order on this day.

Syndergaard, the guy known as Thor, was out behind the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, shirtless after running, 11 pitches reaching 100 mph in the books, looking as if he hadn't just taken on the champions of the baseball world, but the rest of the Avengers, too. And maybe the Justice League of America.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- So this was Noah Syndergaard after his first Spring Training start, with the great Justin Verlander as the opposing pitcher and George Springer and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and Marwin Gonzalez in the Astros' batting order on this day.

Syndergaard, the guy known as Thor, was out behind the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, shirtless after running, 11 pitches reaching 100 mph in the books, looking as if he hadn't just taken on the champions of the baseball world, but the rest of the Avengers, too. And maybe the Justice League of America.

"I didn't feel as if I expended all that much effort," Syndergaard said.

On a day when Verlander really was the opposing pitcher and the defending champs were in the house, Syndergaard was asked if adrenaline might have had at least a little something to do with the way he'd just pitched.

"I get adrenaline throwing live batting practice," he said.

Verlander, pitching in a live game for the first time since Game 6 of the World Series against the Dodgers, had crackling hot stuff himself in Houston's 8-7 win. He threw his first pitch 95 mph to Wilmer Flores of the Mets, got as high as 97 mph on the gun and ended up striking out four in his own first Spring Training start.

Video: NYM@HOU: Verlander K's four in Spring Training debut

But Syndergaard, who missed so much of last season with a lat injury, who got himself a couple of games at the very end of the season just for his own peace of mind, was the show on this day. His first pitch of the day was 100 mph to Springer. Then another one at 100 mph to Springer, swing and miss. Then Springer lined out to left -- on another 100 mph Syndergaard fastball.

In a box on the third-base side of the field, Mets owner Fred Wilpon looked up at the scoreboard and realized that the biggest arm he has had just thrown three straight 100 mph fastballs on his first three game pitches of Spring Training.

Wilpon, who has been friends with Sandy Koufax since they were both at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, laughed.

"He's kidding, right?" Wilpon said.

Then he added: "The kid is a monster." Paused and said, "But he's a monster who takes instruction."

Video: NYM@HOU: Syndergaard strikes out Altuve looking

Syndergaard threw Josh Reddick another one at 100 mph and Reddick managed to ground to second. Then it was Syndergaard against Jose Altuve, who was not only the American League MVP Award winner last season, but the best player in the game. Altuve took a 101 mph fastball to move the count to 2-2, and then Syndergaard froze him with a breaking ball on the inside corner and struck him out looking.

"The game plan," Syndergaard said after he'd gotten his running in, "was to start with my heater."

Syndergaard is healthy again, clearly, the way all the other young Mets starters are healthy again. There were so many injuries last season, up and down the rotation -- a rotation that not so long ago had pitched the Mets all the way to the 2015 World Series against the Royals. But now Mickey Callaway, the brilliant pitching coach with the Indians, is the Mets' new manager. Dave Eiland is the Mets' pitching coach. Everybody turns the page.

Eiland, by the way, was in the Royals' dugout the night Syndergaard started Game 3 of the 2015 World Series by going up and in on Alcides Escobar, Kansas City's leadoff hitter, with a fastball that seemed to come at Escobar at 200 mph.

Video: WS2015 Gm3: Syndergaard's first pitch strays high

The Royals barked at Syndergaard from the dugout that night and were still barking after the game, at which point he said, "If they have a problem with me throwing inside, they can meet me at sixty feet, six inches away."

This was before Syndergaard got hurt. This was when he did have superhero stuff, and as much fastball as anybody in his sport. Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey and the rest of them were going to pitch that way for a long time. Then they all started to get hurt. Now they are back, working with the firm of Callaway and Eiland. And for this one afternoon in West Palm Beach, Syndergaard did everything except hire a skywriter to let everybody know his arm strength is all the way back to what it was.

"Pitching is controlled aggression," he said. And then he actually said this: "I feel as if I'm more limber and more athletic."

Syndergaard was No. 34 on Monday afternoon. Verlander was No. 35. Verlander has so much of what Syndergaard still wants. He has won an AL Cy Young Award. Verlander has now won a World Series. He has pitched the singularly brilliant game of his career, Game 6 against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series, Astros facing elimination, seven shutout innings, eight strikeouts. Verlander is 35 years old now, and looks as if he has lost nothing off his own fastball. Syndergaard is 25, and for this one, well, thunderbolt afternoon in Florida, looks as if he actually may have added a little something to his own fastball.

Syndergaard said he wanted to work a little more on his breaking balls in the second inning. And he did strike out Gonzalez on what passes for an offspeed pitch for Syndergaard, which means something that floated up to the plate at 93 mph. But the first two pitches Gonzalez saw were both 100 mph. That kind of day. One-hundred-miles-per-hour baseball day on the east coast of Florida.

Video: Syndergaard on his two scoreless innings vs. Astros

Syndergaard was asked afterward if his excitement level had been enhanced because it was Verlander, and he grinned and said, "For sure. That guy's a tough pitcher." Then Syndergaard reminded everybody all over again that he didn't think he had been exerting any extra effort.

But maybe Syndergaard had already summed up his two innings by then for all the reporters waiting for him after his run. He was still standing in the sun when he started to answer the first question, but he quickly moved over against a wall and into the shade.

"Too hot," he explained.

A lot happened on this day in baseball, all over Spring Training. Mostly he had happened for a couple of hot innings in the Florida sun. Big fastballs. Big fun. Yeah, Syndergaard decided to start off with heaters. Monster ones.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com and the New York Daily News, and is a best-selling author.

New York Mets, Jose Altuve, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander