NEW YORK -- After hearing exactly what he needed to hear from right-hander Noah Syndergaard on Saturday, Mets manager Terry Collins moved forward with Plan A, which includes sending the rookie out as the team's Game 2 starter in Sunday's National League Championship Series matchup against the Cubs (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time on TBS).
Syndergaard was the guy the Mets wanted to start at Citi Field all along, but his availability had become complicated by his relief appearance in Game 5 of the NL Division Series on Thursday. Yes, Syndergaard needed only 17 pitches to maneuver through a scoreless inning against the Dodgers. And yes, that's fewer than he would have thrown in a normal side session between starts.
But he threw many more that mattered that night, too, numbering several dozen pitches in total when accounting for the three times he warmed up in the bullpen. That prompted a Saturday summons from Collins, who first asked Syndergaard how he was feeling -- "I'm feeling great," the rookie answered -- and then refined the question with an even narrower focus.
Syndergaard insisted he had no lingering soreness, to which Collins then congratulated him on being the team's choice to start opposite NL Cy Young Award contender Jake Arrieta on Sunday. With the Mets taking a 4-2 victory in Game 1, Syndergaard can pitch the Mets to a 2-0 series lead. Of the 20 NL clubs to win the first two games of a best-of-seven NLCS, 18 have advanced to the World Series.
"My body and my arm have never felt better," Syndergaard said on the eve of his NLCS debut. "I feel like we've all dreamt of this moment right here, and we're all extremely blessed to be here."
Slotting Syndergaard in to pitch Game 2 was always the preference for the Mets, who can now project to have their big three -- Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard -- go twice apiece in this best-of-seven series. Steven Matz will draw the Game 4 start.
Sunday's start will, in many ways, bring the season full circle for Syndergaard, the 23-year-old Texan and former first-round Draft selection who made his Major League debut on May 12. His opponent that day? The Cubs, of course.
Syndergaard shouldered the loss in that game, allowing three runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings. But just as the Cubs' offense has matured in the five months since, so too has the rookie hurler. His mechanics are different, and the trust in his secondary pitches much improved. A changeup he used just 10 times while throwing 99 pitches against Chicago that day has since emerged as another legitimate weapon, particularly against left-handed hitters.
"I feel like I've changed night and day," Syndergaard said. "I've been able to go out there with a lot more confidence in myself and get myself out of certain situations by using [what before were] uncomfortable pitches."
What has remained unchanged is Syndergaard's ability to light up the radar gun. Among all Major League starters with at least 150 innings this season, no one threw fastballs with a higher average velocity than Syndergaard (97.1 mph). In his Game 2 NLDS start against the Dodgers, 13 of the first 36 pitches the right-hander threw registered at least 100 mph.
Like the other young pitchers anchoring this Mets rotation, every pitch Syndergaard throws from here until whenever New York's storybook season ends will be unlike any he's thrown before. That's not only because of the stage, one that no Met has pitched on since 2006; but also because of what Syndergaard has already done to help carry New York back here.
Since opening the season with 29 2/3 innings in Triple-A, Syndergaard has logged 150 during the regular season and another 7 1/3 postseason innings thus far. His biggest innings yet, though, remain on tap.
"This year has been something else for me," Syndergaard said. "It's been pretty hard to comprehend as well. I went from last year to not getting called up, to a lot of people doubting me as a big league pitcher that offseason. ... But as I look back at what happened this year, I feel like I've made a lot of strides and even grown as a better pitcher. [I'm] so extremely blessed to be here."