Alcides Escobar has been on a tear this post-season, fueled in large part due to "ambushing" pitchers in the first inning and swinging at the first pitch. The Royals aggressive, contact-hitting has enabled them to bat around two very talented pitchers in the first two games in Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. Before Game Three, when asked how he planned to handle these red-hot bats, starter Noah Syndergaard replied he had "a few tricks" up his sleeve. This was his trick.
You can debate how close he came to hitting Escobar in the head and whether or not he deserves to be lauded or vilified for his action or whether there is a double standard between him and Royals pitchers like Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera pitching inside, but those topics are not the point of this article. Instead, I would like to address the narrative that came after the 9-3 Mets win, that Syndergaard's first pitch set the tone. It was a narrative that began in mid-game comments by FOX analyst Harold Reynolds after the Mets came back, who said the pitch "set the tone" (never mind that at the time he warned it might awaken a sleeping giant). The post-game analysts concurred that the pitch "set the tone."
So, in summation: Syndergaard announced his presence with authority at the World Series.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 31, 2015
Except that's not really what happened at all.
Alcides Escobar got knocked down and eventually struck out on what was really a brilliant sequence of pitches by Syndergaard. However, Ben Zobrist, the very next hitter, drilled a pitch some 400 feet for a double, likely a home run in many ballparks. Lorenzo Cain bounced a chopper for an infield single. Eric Hosmer then reached on a ball that should have been a double play but was misplayed in part by Noah Syndergaard being in the way of the relay throw. If anything, in the first inning, the Royals announced their presence with authority. "You got a 100 mph fastball? Great. We're still gonna hit you."
Things continued like that for the Royals in the second. Sal Perez got on with a bloop single, followed by an Alex Gordon single. Alex Rios then laced a pitch down the line to drive home a run, and Syndergaard was fortunate that David Wright's quick tag was able to get Alex Gordon out trying to take third on the play. Alcides Escobar, the guy who should have been rattled by the brushback in the first, singled off Syndergaard in his very next at-bat. Syndergaard had "announced his presence with authority" so well that the Mets had Jon Niese warm up in the bullpen.
Syndergaard settled down after that and went on to pitch a nice ballgame, retiring eleven in a row at one point and if there is a narrative to be written about his pitching, its the mid-game adjustment he made. But overall, his performance wasn't exactly Don Larsen's perfect game. Let's look at two pitching lines:
Pitcher A is Matt Harvey in Game One, a performance some Mets fans thought was "trash." Pitcher B is Noah Syndergaard in Game Three, announcing his presence with authority. Now, pitching lines can be superficial and sure Syndergaard missed more bats and had a fluky hit or two against him. But Matt Harvey also had the misfortune of having his team score just four runs in support and his closer blowing a ninth inning lead. Syndergaard had the fortune of having Yordano Ventura turn in an awful performance and the Royals defense look uncharacteristically off at times.
If the Mets hitters had not bailed Syndergaard out of a 3-2 deficit in the second inning, the narrative would have been how Syndergaard was "reckless" and let his emotions get the best of him. Stories would be written about how he came in with bravado only to be rattled by the Royals relentless contact attack. His 4.50 ERA in the game would be evidence he was a rookie, not yet ready for the big stage of the World Series and the experienced post-season Royals bats.
Noah Syndergaard was an impressive pitcher in innings three through five. And why not? He has electric stuff. The Mets played a terrific game and the Royals played lousy and it looks like we'll have a pretty good series on our hands. But please don't confuse Noah Syndergaard's silly first inning swagger and bravado as the reason the Mets won.
Bottom line: If the Mets come back to win the WS, Syndergaard’s pitch to Escobar will be cast as the turning point in history's narrative.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 31, 2015
Together, we can end false sports narratives in our lifetime.