Noah Syndergaard received a standing ovation as he jogged to the mound Tuesday night and yet another as he departed minutes later.
In between he threw 10 pitches, retiring all three batters he faced with two strikeouts. He was back — one day short of the two-year anniversary of his last appearance for the Mets.
Syndergaard, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020 that had kept him removed from the major leagues until Tuesday night, served as the opener in the nightcap of a doubleheader against Miami. The Mets won the first game, 5-2 behind five solid innings from Marcus Stroman.
Topping out at 96 mph, Syndergaard featured a four-seam fastball and sinker (he’s been advised medically against throwing his slider and curveball this season). He struck out the first two batters he faced, Miguel Rojas and Jazz Chisholm Jr., on eight pitches before retiring Bryan De La Cruz on a grounder to third base. Nine of his 10 pitches were strikes.
The Mets initially hoped to have Syndergaard, an impending free agent, by mid-June, but that plan was scuttled when he incurred elbow tightness during a May minor league rehab start. Syndergaard restarted his rehab in July, but that was derailed briefly in late August, after he tested positive for COVID-19. After his quarantine, Syndergaard pitched twice as an opener for Triple-A Syracuse.
“He worked really hard to put himself in this position to start for us today,” manager Luis Rojas said before the game. “Pitching in a big league game is a different animal, the adrenaline rush is different, so it’s great for him to get in there and pitch.”
After watching their starters mostly get knocked around over the past week, the Mets could only be thankful for Stroman’s performance in Game 1, which helped the team snap a five-game losing streak.
Stroman, an impending free agent, allowed two earned runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts over five innings. It was his 21st start this season (of 33) in which he pitched at least five innings and allowed two runs or fewer. It’s possible this start was his last at Citi Field for the Mets.
“I’m open to anything,” Stroman said, referring to his future. “At this point in my career I can’t wait to be on a team where I know I am going to be there longer than a year. It’s extremely gratifying. It took a thousand innings to get to this point, so I am looking forward to free agency — however it may play out, I know that it’s manifested and I am playing out the story as it should be. There’s no worries on my end and I know there will be a team or a few teams that want me, so I’m excited for the next few months.”
Stroman was also part of the offensive excitement. After reaching on third baseman Eddy Alvarez’s throwing error in the second inning, he stole second and advanced to third on Nick Fortes’ errant throw on the play. It was Stroman’s first career stolen base. The last Mets pitcher to steal a base was Jacob deGrom during the 2017 season. Stroman said he told teammates before the game that if he reached base he was going to steal.
“And the situation just happened to present itself,” Stroman said. “I said, ‘I have got to do it. I can’t be all talk.’ I just got a good jump and got in there at a good time.”
Francisco Lindor gave the Mets a cushion with a two-run homer that extended the Mets’ lead to 5-2 in the sixth. The blast was Lindor’s second in as many games, giving him 19 for the season.
Lewin Diaz smacked a two-run homer in the fourth that sliced the Mets’ lead to 3-2. The blast was the third allowed by Stroman in his last two starts after going five straight appearances without surrendering one.
Lindor’s RBI single in the first gave the Mets a 1-0 lead following Brandon Nimmo’s leadoff triple. Nimmo entered the day with a 1.124 OPS in nine games against Miami this season.
Jonathan Villar stroked a two-out RBI single in the third that extended the Mets’ lead to 2-0. After Villar stole second to put runners on second and third, Javier Baez scored on Alvarez’s fielding error. Baez had reached on a two-out single.