NEW YORK -- In many ways, Noah Syndergaard is still very much a rookie. Quiet, unassuming, he can be almost bashful at times, fretting Saturday about a blotch of pasta sauce on his lips before stepping in front of a television camera.
In most other ways, Syndergaard's inexperience is long gone. In delivering seven dominant innings during a 3-1 loss to the Nationals in Game 1 of Saturday's day-night doubleheader, Syndergaard proved for the umpteenth time why he is a lock for the Met's postseason rotation. He hopes his first start will come at Citi Field, though the Mets' loss put them at a one-game disadvantage to the Dodgers, pending the outcomes of Saturday night's games. The Mets do own the tiebreaker over the Dodgers -- thanks to a 4-3 head-to-head record -- should the teams finish with the same overall record.
"He's growing up fast," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "In this market, I've just been impressed with everything he does. He works hard at it. He listens. He tries things. He picked up the two-seamer in one bullpen. This guy wants to be good and he's going to be good."
That Syndergaard took a no-decision in his final regular-season start was hardly his fault. The rookie's only damaging mistake was a hung curveball to Clint Robinson, who deposited it into the upper deck in right field in the seventh. That pitch, along with his changeup, has allowed Syndergaard to transform from a hard thrower without much of a plan on the mound to a far more complete pitcher than he was in April.
"I feel pretty good," Syndergaard said. "I felt like I ended the regular season on a high note today. I feel like I learned a lot this season, and now it's time to transfer what I learned during the season into the playoffs."
"He came up here obviously with the billing of this big power arm, which he's got," Collins said. "But he's a pitcher. This guy throws a lot more strikes than you would think a young man with that kind of arm and that size ... it's surprising how much he pounds the strike zone. That's where I was most impressed as he went through the season. He throws strikes and he makes you swing the bat. That's why I think he's going to be a good pitcher. His stuff speaks for itself."
From his 99-mph heat to his hammer curve and upper-80s change, that stuff has held up remarkably well despite Syndergaard's 179 2/3 innings between the Minors and Majors this season -- 46 2/3 more than last season, a sizable jump for a 23-year-old. Pitching so well and so frequently has allowed Syndergaard to rack up accolades, including the fifth-most strikeouts (166) of any Mets rookie and the lowest WHIP (1.05) in franchise rookie history.
Whether his next start comes at Citi Field or Dodger Stadium -- Syndergaard is all but a lock for Game 2, after Jacob deGrom -- the Mets do not yet know. But they are more confident now than ever that it will not matter.
"We prefer to pitch at home, open up at home, just because we have the best fans in baseball," Syndergaard said, admitting that he's reflected upon his October opportunity. "Nothing can really prepare me until I actually experience it."