Mets rookie sensation sets down first 18 batters, strikes out nine
By Alden Woods
NEW YORK -- Terry Collins started thinking about perfection after four innings. His anxiety grew as Noah Syndergaard worked through a perfect fifth inning, and became a full-blown worry of the best kind when he did it again in the sixth.
Here was Syndergaard, the type of precious arm the Mets have sworn all season to conserve, threatening to force a decision -- let him blow through his planned 110-pitch limit in search of perfection, or make the unpopular decision to pull him while still in sight of it?
Collins made his decision while Syndergaard was still perfect. Syndergaard would throw 110 pitches, no more, in an eventual 4-0 Mets victory over the Padres on Tuesday night at Citi Field.
"We cannot eat up these innings," Collins said.
A pair of seventh-inning singles erased Syndergaard's perfect game and made Collins' decision for him, but the 22-year-old continued to churn through Padres hitters. He finished eight scoreless innings, his best performance in a Major League uniform.
Syndergaard allowed just three hits and struck out nine without issuing a walk. He said he knew good things were coming as he went through his pregame warmup.
"It was kind of in the back of my head from when the game started," Syndergaard said of his run at perfection. "Everything was working for me."
Syndergaard attributed his success to a newly activated two-seam fastball that's given him more control. It was a pitch he said he's struggled with throughout his time with the Mets, and it's just now coming around.
Syndergaard mixed in the two-seamer as he started to overpower batter after batter, racking up five strikeouts in his first four innings. The ball left the infield only twice as he sat down the first 18 batters he faced.
Will Venable broke up the perfect game with a leadoff single in the seventh inning, and Yangervis Solarte followed him with a single of his own. After six innings of perfection, Syndergaard found himself facing runners on the corners with no outs.
It didn't seem to faze him. He forced an infield popup from Matt Kemp and drew Justin Upton into an inning-ending double play. The shutout continued, and Syndergaard needed only four pitches to end the inning.
"I think he's in that situation and he said, 'Hey look, I've got to get out of this,'" Collins said. "And that's exactly how he went about things."
Syndergaard allowed a leadoff single in the eighth inning, but he retired the next three Padres to complete eight scoreless frames. At that point, his pitch count had climbed to 107, too high for his manager's liking.
The near-spotless start gave Syndergaard his fifth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.70. He's exceeded even Collins' expectations in his first 14 Major League starts, pitching around perceived weaknesses mentioned in Minor League scouting reports.
Syndergaard simply called it settling in. In three short months, he's gone from can't-miss prospect to a solidified member of the Mets' so-called "Big Four," and he's still looking for more.
"It's a good day to be a Met," Syndergaard said. "I think it's going to be a fun couple months."
Alden Woods is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.