Now a Phillie, Thor returns to Queens with no regrets

August 12th, 2022

NEW YORK -- For six seasons as a member of the Mets, Noah Syndergaard embraced the big-market spotlight. But when it came time to choose a team this winter, he deliberately shied away from it.

“Part of the reason why I made the move to the Angels, to the West Coast, was just because that energy that can make New York so great and positive can also bite you in the butt a little bit -- especially with what I’m going through right now, a little dip in velocity,” Syndergaard said on Friday, upon returning to Citi Field for the first time as a visitor. “I’m still trying to rely on location and mixing things up. And I feel like if I was doing that playing here, everything would just be highlighted. That’s a big fear of mine.”

In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard has been a different pitcher, throwing his signature fastball an average of more than 4 mph slower than he did during his peak seasons with the Mets. Knowing this would be the case as he entered the offseason, Syndergaard rejected New York’s $18.4 million qualifying offer with no guarantees of finding equivalent money on the open market. (Ultimately, Syndergaard did, inking a one-year, $21 million pact with the Angels, who subsequently traded him to the Phillies.)

During his months in Anaheim, Syndergaard said, he embraced the slower pace of life.

“You walk in the Angels' clubhouse, and there’s only like three reporters there, and most of them are Japanese, so they don’t really speak a lot of English,” Syndergaard said. “Everything’s just heightened -- it’s pretty cutthroat playing in New York. I feel like I did a pretty good job at it for the last six years -- even though I was hurt for the last two -- of managing it, embracing it. It’s just a lot when you’re trying to get back from injury.”

The Mets harbor no ill will toward Syndergaard, considering they entered Friday’s play with the fifth-best rotation ERA (3.52) in the Majors. Although Syndergaard has enjoyed a bounce-back season, producing a 3.96 ERA in 17 starts, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt -- the two newcomers to New York’s rotation -- have outperformed him by a significant margin.

“It’s great witnessing their success from a distance,” Syndergaard said of the first-place Mets. “I’m still rooting for those guys on the other side.”

During his six seasons in Flushing, Syndergaard had an outsized impact on the organization, earning his “Thor” nickname and becoming, at times, a larger-than-life figure around Citi Field. He remains the only Mets pitcher to win a World Series game in the last 20 years.

Injuries, including a torn lat muscle in 2017 and Tommy John surgery in 2020, robbed Syndergaard of additional opportunities to contribute. Upon returning to the mound late last season, Syndergaard hinted at a return, saying: “I’m fairly confident we’ll reach an agreement and I’ll be pitching here next year.” But even when the Mets extended him a qualifying offer, which was no given, Syndergaard wound up elsewhere.

Asked Friday about his offseason thought process, Syndergaard replied: “That was such a long time ago. I’m having a hard time remembering what was going through my head. But it was just a one-year deal. It wasn’t like I signed 10 years with the Yankees. I just needed a little break.”

“I don’t have any regrets,” Syndergaard added. “It’s just brought me to where I am now.”

Before Friday’s game, the Mets played a tribute video for Syndergaard to thank him for his achievements, which included an All-Star season in 2016 and a 3.32 ERA over 718 career innings with the team. Syndergaard called the return “a whirlwind of emotions,” saying he anticipated boos after hearing many from The 7 Line Army fan club in Anaheim earlier this season.

Syndergaard did not pitch in that series because the Angels pushed back his outing, and he is not scheduled to pitch in this series, either. He should make his first career start against the Mets next weekend, however, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

“It should be a really exciting series,” Syndergaard said. “I’m glad to be playing for a team that has hopes and a shot of playing for a World Series. I’m still only a couple days in, but I feel like I’ve meshed really well with the guys. The clubhouse is amazing. The staff is awesome. So I look forward to this journey.”