Mets set high playoff expectations

As the Mets embark on a new postseason, two aces recall their 2015 run

Mets set high playoff expectations

The Mets made the postseason for a second consecutive season in 2016, and with that comes time for reflection. Whatever magic the Mets wielded during their 2015 World Series run centered, in large part, around some historically strong starting pitching. Overcoming long odds to reach the Series became possible because of what their dynamic young starters achieved.

Leading that staff was a pair of pitchers who ranked among baseball's top arms well before stepping onto the October stage. Jacob deGrom followed up his National League Rookie of the Year campaign with a Cy Young-caliber season in 2015, establishing himself as the Mets' resident ace. Noah Syndergaard, who debuted in May, might have followed in deGrom's footsteps as Rookie of the Year had he spent a full season in the Big Leagues -- and had a man named Kris Bryant not stood in his way. After New York surprised critics and won the NL East, deGrom and Syndergaard combined for an impressive five victories, 55 strikeouts and a 3.07 ERA over 44 innings in the postseason.

This year, the Mets overcame numerous injuries -- including a season-ending injury to deGrom himself -- to secure the right to host the Wild Card Game at Citi Field. But as a pitcher who was integral to last year's October run, deGrom is more-than-ready to cheer on Syndergaard from the dugout, as the 23-year-old prepares to lengthen his postseason resume and put New York on his back. Both moundsmen took some time to discuss what it was like to reach the Fall Classic so early in their careers and what they're looking forward to doing next.

What had you heard about the postseason before you made it there yourselves?

Jacob deGrom: People tell you what to expect, but until you get there, you don't really know. There was a little bit of the unknown. Mentally, I tried to tell myself it was just another game -- just go out there and try to locate and pitch like I had all year.
Once I got out there, I think there definitely were some more nerves than normal. Those were big games. Getting that experience in my second year was awesome, though. Hopefully I get more chances to pitch in the playoffs.

Noah Syndergaard: It's always going to be pretty nerve-wracking up until the actual event happens. Even 24 hours before my first NLDS start, I remember not getting a lot of sleep because I was so anxious. But I wasn't really worried about it, because I knew that adrenaline was just going to take over at that point.
Once I got in the game, I guess I got a little bit of tunnel vision. Los Angeles is an awesome atmosphere to experience your first playoff start. It can be a little overwhelming, though. I mean [Dodger Stadium] holds what, 50,000 people? And they're all pretty rowdy and enjoy the game, so their emotions are definitely in it.

To beat the Dodgers, you had to start by facing Clayton Kershaw. Jacob, how were you able to come out on top in Game 1, when you struck out 13?

deGrom fans 13 in Game 1 gem

JD: That night, I was feeling it from the start. There are some days you go out there and you know it's coming out good. You just seem to hit your spot every time you throw the ball, and that was one of those days.

Game 5 was a little tougher. Jacob, you battled, and Noah, you entered in relief. What was it like to win in that fashion?

JD: I gave up two [runs] in the first inning. At that point, I was like, "All right, that's all they get." I didn't have my best stuff, but I was able to find a way to get outs. So that was more of a battle mentally.
Physically, I was just trying to make pitches when I needed to. I noticed that the bullpen was up early and I thought, "You've got to bear down here and get some outs, and get as deep in this game as you can."

NS: He really went out there and battled. I'll always remember that I loosened up four times. I know there was some kind of rumor that I had thrown 100 pitches in the bullpen, but that was not the case at all. I might have thrown 25.
I was really impressed with Jacob. I was able to watch him get out of some jams from the bullpen. It just shows the amount of maturity and competitiveness that he carries out on the mound.

JD: Coming up, [Triple-A pitching coach] Frank Viola told me [that in] 10 starts you'll have your best stuff, 10 starts you'll have okay stuff and 10 starts you'll have terrible stuff. He said what makes a guy good is what he can do when he doesn't have his best stuff. It's just taking that mentality out there.
When I saw the bullpen up, it wasn't a good feeling. In those big games, you want to be out there as long as you can. Looking back, I was like, "You've got to figure it out here." I was fortunate enough to be able to do that, and to last six innings.

NS: I might have gotten up in the bullpen for the first time in the third inning or so. I was like, "Oh shoot, this is really happening. I've never been in this role before. But if they have the trust and confidence to put me in this kind of atmosphere, then I should go out there and have the same amount of confidence."
It was Game 5. Right there, it's a do-or-die situation. You just lay it all between the lines.

JD: It's impressive every time Noah takes the mound. I was just rooting for him. That's one thing that we all do very well: Root for each other. And I think we all know that our other starting pitchers have our backs. He came out of the 'pen that night and was amped up, and did a great job.

What was the celebration like, knowing that the Mets hadn't reached the NLCS, or even the playoffs, since 2006?

Mets win National League pennant

NS: It was an awesome time. I can relive the images in my head over and over again. I'll never forget the sting of champagne in my eyes, or the smell of walking into the clubhouse the day after we clinched. I could smell the beer-soaked carpet. Things like that you'll never forget.
And you'll never forget the people you did it with. Michael Cuddyer was always saying, "Earn the burn."

What were you thinking after you and your teammates swept the Cubs in the NLCS?

JD: We were fortunate enough to sweep them and have a couple days off. It really got to sink in that we were going to the World Series. My second year in the Big Leagues, I'm going to the World Series. And for Noah and [Steven Matz], it was their first year. It was an unbelievable experience.

How did you deal with losing the first two games of the World Series? Noah, you made headlines with your first pitch in Game 3.

Syndergaard on first pitch

NS: [The Royals] were just really, really comfortable in the box the first two games. I saw Alcides Escobar swing at the first pitch of the game twice in a row. So I wasn't going to just lay one in there for him to hit. I wanted to keep him on his toes, keep him honest and go from there. I might not have reacted in the best way, but that's just people making something out of nothing.

Can you describe the World Series experience as a whole?

JD: You don't know what it's like until you get there, and then when you get there, it's even more than you expected. I just wish the outcome was a little different.
I think the sting hung around a lot longer than the feeling that we made it there. You end the season feeling like you were that close and just couldn't get it done. Yeah, it's a great accomplishment to get there, but the goal is to win it and we fell short of that goal. I can't wait to get to another World Series because I'm not happy with how that one went.
But we don't really talk about it these days too much. I think we focus more on what's going on now. It's never really looking back; we try to look forward to what we want to do. We have a lot of fun together. On off days, we always go out to eat together or hang out. Everybody on this starting staff has a good relationship.

NS: My entire family was there. They were all super excited for me. Who wouldn't be excited for someone, especially at such a young age, to experience a World Series in New York? With where my family comes from -- outside of their hometown [in Texas], they don't really know much of anything else -- that experience was pretty incredible for them.
I spent probably close to a month in New York following the season. I would just think to myself every once in a while how cool it would have been to walk the streets as a World Series champ. It did sting a little bit. But it just made us that much hungrier this year to give that extra push, that extra one percent. Just being able to experience the World Series and going to the playoffs is the most fun I've ever had in my life.

This article appears in the MLB Official League Championship Series Program. To purchase a copy, visit shop.mlb.com.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.