NEW YORK—It was beginning to look like the World Series would essentially be over before the New York Mets had a chance to enjoy being there. Odes to the Kansas City Royals’ relentlessness had been composed. The young arms in the Mets’ starting rotation appeared to be running out of gas. The six-day layoff after the NLCS, joking around on the Jimmy Kimmel show and taking bows at New York Islander games while the Royals were still busy dispatching the Toronto Blue Jays, had apparently robbed them of their edge.
Then Friday night happened, and suddenly the Mets’ outlook is entirely different. With their 9-3 win in Game 3 at Citi Field, New York not only avoided a 3-0 hole, it made the possibility of a comeback seem if not likely, at least far more realistic. With the next two games at home, a re-energized offense and a rediscovered swagger—courtesy of Game 3 starter Noah Syndegaard—the Mets have given themselves a chance to flip this Series on its head.
“We never even considered the possibility of going down 3-0, so in that sense, we never felt pressure,” New York reliever Tyler Clippard said after Game 3. “But it’s fair to say there’s a sense of relief. We have a lot more work to do, and I’m sure they still feel that they’re in control, but put it this way, it’s a series now.”
After the Royals won Game 2 convincingly in Kansas City, there was the feeling that they were completely outplaying the Mets, dominating the series. Now, not so much. In fact, the case could be made that New York is just one bad sinker from closer Jeurys Familia—the one Alex Gordon crushed for the game-tying homer in the ninth inning of Game 1—from having a 2-1 lead in the Series.
In the first two games, the best of the Royals—contact hitting, stellar defense and bullpen depth—was on display. In Game 3, with an impressive six innings from Syndegaard, who retired 12 straight Kansas City hitters during one stretch, and home runs from David Wright and Curtis Granderson, the Mets finally put together the formula that got them here, the one that they hope will propel them the rest of the series: strong starting pitching and power hitting. “Getting back in front of our home fans, we just looked like ourselves again,” said catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “I think our confidence level going forward is as high as it’s ever been.”
As always, much of New York's confidence comes from their next starting pitcher. Rookie lefthander Steven Matz, who grew up on Long Island as a Mets fan, will have the chance to help them even the Series against the Royals’ Chris Young, the 6’10” former Met who shut them down with three innings of scoreless relief in the 14-inning Game 1. Despite their problems against Young, an 11-year veteran on his fifth team, the Mets feel they have an advantage in that they know him quite well while none of the Royals have ever faced Matz. “The good thing for us is that he threw a lot in the first game,” Granderson said of Young. “Everyone got a chance to get at least one at-bat against him. I think that might be beneficial for us.”
The Mets didn’t just need to win Game 3, they needed to change the tone of the Series, and Syndegaard took care of that with his first-pitch, a fastball that sailed well over the head of leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar. He then gave the most memoarable quote of the Series afterwards, telling the Royals that if they didn’t like him pitching inside, “they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away. I have no problem with that.”
The Royals would clearly like that opportunity, (although it probably couldn’t happen unless the Series reaches Game 7.) They made no secret of their displeasure, even though replays and pitch charts showed that the pitch wasn’t as close to Escobar’s head as it originally appeared. Escobar called it “stupid,” rightfielder Alex Rios said it was “unprofessional,” and third baseman Mike Moustakas could be seen yelling at Syndegaard from the Kansas City dugout.
“I think the whole team was pretty upset,” Moustakas said. “First pitch of the game goes whizzing by our leadoff man’s head. Whatever it was, it’s what happened. I don’t think I was the only one upset in that dugout. I think all [the] guys in that dugout were pretty fired up.”
Everyone seems to be taking the gloves off, at least verbally. Royals starter Yordano Ventura, who was knocked out in the fourth inning after giving up five runs on seven hits, didn’t hesitate to make it clear he still thinks his team will wrap up the title in New York. “I think we can finish it off right here,’’ he said. “There are two more games here and I know that we can get it done here. I don’t expect it to go back to Kansas City.’’
Both teams are throwing sharp-edged quotes at each other. It remains to be seen whether they will do the same with their pitches. Given the importance of the games, it’s unlikely that Young or any of the other Royals pitchers would risk ejection by engaging in any overt retaliation for Syndegaard’s pitch, but there is clearly a layer of animosity in the Series that wasn’t there before Friday night.
So be it. As long as it doesn’t devolve into a silly and dangerous beanball war, a little extra venom in a series always increases the entertainment value. What seemed like a coronation of the Royals just a day ago now shapes up as a tense battle. The World Series is three games old, but in many ways, it feels like a new one has just begun.