When Noah Syndergaard takes the mound for the Phillies in Game 3 of the World Series on Monday night, he won’t be in foreign territory.
Syndergaard started Game 3 of the World Series for the New York Mets in 2015.
Things were different back then, but in some ways, they were the same.
In 2015, Syndergaard was a headstrong 23-year-old with a right arm that could fire baseballs up to 100 mph.
Now, he’s a more cautious 30-year-old with a surgically repaired right arm that no longer lights up radar guns.
The stakes were high in 2015 and they’ll be high again Monday night. Syndergaard won Game 3 of the 2015 World Series to prevent the Kansas City Royals from going up three-games-to-none on the Mets. The Royals ended up winning the series in five games, but Syndergaard did his job in Game 3.
Now, he’ll look to provide quality innings as the Phillies try to gain the upper hand on the Houston Astros. The World Series is tied at a game apiece. It’s basically down to a best-of-five event and the Phillies need to capitalize on having three straight games at Citizens Bank Park.
“Seven years just seems like a long time ago,” Syndergaard said Sunday afternoon. “I was just a very naive rookie (in 2015). I’ve had a lot of baseball under my belt since then to mature and to accumulate some experience. I’ve been in this scenario before. I think the Phillies have been in this scenario before. We’re even at 1-1, taking it back to the Bank where I think we’re pretty dangerous. That playing environment is really going to help us out.”
The Phillies acquired Syndergaard from the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline to provide innings at the back end of the rotation. He was not projected to be part of the postseason rotation, but the Phillies are in a place where they need him. Kyle Gibson hit a wall late in the season and is not an option to start, though he remains on the postseason roster.
The Phils have gotten this far in the postseason without a fourth starter that they really trust. And now that No. 3 starter Ranger Suarez has been pushed back to Game 4 on Tuesday, the Phils need someone, so Syndergaard is the guy who will get the ball against the rugged Houston Astros in Game 3.
Syndergaard was part of a pitching puzzle that the Phils used in the Game 4 clincher of the NLCS against Atlanta. On October 15, he pitched three innings of scoreless ball then handed off to the bullpen. In all, Phillies pitchers struck out 15 and walked none in an 8-3 win that day.
Though Syndergaard has pitched just 1⅓ inning and thrown just 17 pitches since then, the Phillies will look to get as much as they can out of him Monday night. They aren’t sure how long Suarez will be able to go in Game 4. His last two outings have been in relief, when manager Rob Thomson got aggressive in nailing down wins in the NLCS clincher and World Series opener. Either way, the Phils could go deep into their bullpen in Games 3 and 4. They will take whatever they can from their starter those nights, as long as he’s effective.
“I feel like I could go for as long as they will allow me to,” Syndergaard said. “Now is the time to empty the tanks.”
Lance McCullers Jr. will start for Houston. The Phils beat him on October 3, the night Aaron Nola carried a perfect game into the seventh in the game that put the Phillies in the playoffs. But McCullers was tough. He allowed just one run — a Kyle Schwarber homer on the first pitch of the game — over six innings.
It sounds silly to say Monday night’s game is crucial. It’s the World freaking Series and every game is crucial.
But within that, this one is super-crucial. The Phillies are 10-3 this postseason and have not trailed in any series. A loss would put them down in a series for the first time. A win would put them up with two more to play at home, where they are so far 5-0 this postseason.
This is a huge swing game. And with that comes a big responsibility for Syndergaard, regardless of how long he’s in the game. Whether it’s one turn through the lineup or more, he must keep in check an Astros lineup that has lit up Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler for 10 runs in Games 1 and 2.
“I’m just focusing on being who I can be,” Syndergaard said. “I’m not trying to get outside my realm of a pitcher. I’ve definitely learned a lot and feel like I’ve evolved as a pitcher, not just a thrower, over the course of this year.
“I think just the important thing for me and for the team as a whole is to go out there and do what we’ve been doing the entire year. It is the World Series, but we have to just play like it’s a normal game. Don’t let the game speed up on us. Just focus on executing every pitch and having really quality at-bats.”
Syndergaard faced the Astros twice earlier this season when he was with the Angels. He pitched 5⅔ scoreless innings on April 9 and four innings of three-run ball on July 12. He only struck out a total of four batters and allowed six walks.
With Sunday’s off day, the Phillies will have a rested bullpen. But there’s still a Game 4 to play Tuesday. Thomson acknowledged that Games 3 and 4 could be a challenge, pitching-wise. Nola will pitch Game 5 on Wednesday.
“Yeah, it’s going to be (a challenge), and really that’s why we put Ranger in Game 4, to give him that extra day,” Thomson said. “That may give him an extra 20, 25 pitches, as opposed to where he would have been in Game 3.
“But, yeah, we’re going to be using the bullpen and I have a lot of confidence in everybody out there. So, we’ll be grinding on ’em a little bit for sure.”